By now you might have heard of the recent controversy surrounding Christian apologist and pastor, James White, concerning a Facebook post, which is now removed, which he made comments about the disrespectful behavior of a black teenager toward law enforcement. Some thought his comments were rooted in racism and others found his comments justifiable and truthful. Initially, I was of the former and expressed my initial thoughts here, but I also want to add additional thoughts as I’ve had time to pray and further think about the the situation in light of Scripture.
Earlier this year, as I was making my way through my yearly Bible reading plan, I was reminded by something in Leviticus that I’d forgotten. Unfortunately, Leviticus seems to be one of the books that often defeats those who have committed to read the Bible. Meticulous laws about Israel’s religious culture discussing the slaughtering of animals and the spilling of blood as well as their civil/social culture about how to deal with leprous people, bodily discharges etc. doesn’t exactly sound like exciting reading on the surface. However, when we understand that through those laws God was revealing more of His identity to them as well as revealing their identities, establishing them as a holy nation and preparing them for entrance into the Canaan, it all makes sense. God was establishing and preparing Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the Gentiles.
Under the Old Covenant, Leviticus 19:9-18 instructs the people how to deal with their neighbors. The instruction for Israel was that they were to love one another. They were to be benevolent and just with one another; not malevolent and unjust. The basis for this command is primarily rooted in Genesis 1:26-27, which states that mankind, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has inherent dignity simply because he/she is an image bearer of God. And as image bearers, we’re called to relate to one another in ways that manifest that dignity and bring glory to God. As we read further in Leviticus, that dignified treatment wasn’t to be based on sex (Lev. 19:29), age (Lev. 19:32), economic status (Lev. 19:15), nor ethnicity (Lev. 19:33-37). Furthermore, Leviticus 19:33-37 is not only about ethnic differences, but also about religious differences. The term ‘stranger’ in these verses means people from other ethnicities who were outside the covenant community of God. As Israel would be situated by pagan worshippers, God forbade unjust treatment of them when they would sojourn in the land of Israel. Treating people with dignity simply is an expression of love, which is the essence of God’s law (Exodus 20).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus was questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ response was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). In Luke’s gospel this conversation is given more detail with the lawyer seeking clarification about who his neighbor was because he was trying to justify his actions (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) in which Jesus didn’t directly answer who was a neighbor, but rather Jesus instructed the man to be a good neighbor, which wasn’t to be bound by ethnic or religious distinction. In this parable, the Samaritan was the outcast of society because of his ethnicity and his religion, yet was commended for showing the most love to the man who had been robbed.
Under the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul and James both reiterate Jesus’ teaching that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom.13:8-10; Jam. 2:8) among believers and toward unbelievers (John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21). We are to show dignity toward others by loving them, which is a sign that we are truly the children of God, redeemed by Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses
After White’s comments were made public, he was initially confronted by several brothers who objected to his unfair generalization about the teenager’s upbringing – that he was probably fatherless, and also about his future – that he would likely father several children by different women and concede to multiple abortions. As the dialogue continued White was offered a chance to discuss these concerns face to face and he declined charging the concerned brothers with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism says that one ethnicity ( i.e. white) is disallowed to speak to, or about, another ethnic people (i.e. black) or their experience since they’re (i.e. white) not of that ethnicity (i.e. black). Essentially, White was accusing several people of filtering the gospel through ethnic lenses rather than filtering ethnicity through a gospel lens. To be fair, the former can happen and proof of this is Black Liberation Theology (BLT) purported by James Cone. BLT or any form of Liberation Theology rewrites the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture and reinterprets it through the perspective of the oppressed, which distorts the gospel altogether. Those who confronted White weren’t doing that, so the charge is unfounded. What they were doing was expressing the illegitimacy and unfairness of White’s comments about that teenager and holding White accountable to the gospel that commands us to love others – even those outside of the New Covenant. Essentially, there was an attempt to help White actually see that teenager through gospel lenses. Gospel lenses looks with hope, grace and mercy toward others because of the reconciling and transforming work of Christ.
Gospel lenses ought to compel us to see the dignity of all people, even when they’re behaving in an undignified manner, because they’re image bearers. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to be burdened for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to pray for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to share the good news of the gospel with the unredeemed. Had White thought about this or done this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Instead, White said this:
“So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads. As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.”
As stated in my previous article, White refused to engage in further dialogue with brothers who were trying to help him understand his misstep and hold him accountable to gospel love. Gospel lenses help us to be slower to speak and quicker to hear, especially when someone is trying to tell you how you’ve caused damage. Gospel lenses don’t refute the possibility of error, but humbly seek to see where error might have occurred. Gospel lenses don’t point the finger back in retaliation, but entrusts all judgment to the Father.
In a reply, White stated that he was not a racist and he meant no harm by his words, but rather he was merely citing statistics. I’ll take him at his word – he wasn’t trying to offend. However, his choice of words, his highly defensive and sarcastic responses on his show and toward other Christian brothers seeking to help him see his error and understand how to better apply the gospel in light of the racism narrative, seems to be a huge blind-spot for White. Only gospel lenses will give him the sight he desperately needs. But there is hope, because our God is a living God committed to see His children conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
Questions for White
1. Why did you initially post what you posted, Mr. White?
2. Do you think your post and subsequent responses were more encouraging or discouraging?
3. Do you think your post was necessary?
4. Do you think your post was more helpful or less helpful concerning the Great Commission?
5. Do you think your response to the brothers’ concerns was Christlike?
6. Do you think you can learn anything in the area of racism from African-Americans and how to apply the gospel to racism?
I am convinced that the LORD doesn’t waste anything. All of this served to remind me that we all have blind spots because we’re still being sanctified. I need to be wary of being incapable of being corrected. I need to consistently pray for a humble and teachable heart.
At the same time, I am hopeful. God will accomplish His will in and for His people for His glory! Nothing can stay His hand! He has never ceased to fail to accomplish His will!
Grace & Peace,