Friday, August 25, 2017

The problem of non-naming as seen in the era of identity politics

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 Jn. 1:9-10)

In much of present society, naming those who are in error is repugnant (with the exception of Trump and white supremacists I suppose). Rather, the person is to be respected while the error rejected. Now, while in some cases, such might be the right course of action, when it comes to accusations and insinuations of sin, such is actually unbiblical and sinful.

In the era of identity politics, vague accusations of sin in the form of "systemic racism" abound. Broad strokes of racial injustice are painted as the original sin of a particular ethnic group or society or nation. But what exactly are these but assault on entire swaths of society and the demonization of entire ethnicities? If there is actual racism, surely racists can be named and racist laws pointed out. But if one deals in generalities, then aspersion is cast upon entire ethnicities, without having the necessity of actually proving that sins exist. After all, when one points out someone from that group is not racist, then the accuser can say that person is not racist but "the system" is. General accusations of sin can be made without the need to prove actual sin exists, since how does one prove a general sin when any counter-evidence is particular?

Thus, while non-naming seems to be "kinder" and more polite, it may not actually be kind and loving. In fact, especially in the era of identity politics where vague general collective accusations are the norm, non-naming actually result in division and the creation of strife between different groups of people. After all, what do you think is going to happen if you start accusing whites of being unjust ("privilege") because of their skin color, which they cannot change? Maybe as a black you suffer real injustice and racism from whites, but are you honestly suggesting the solution is to insinuate that whites are sinful because of their skin color? Oh, but I didn't say that, you might say. But what do you think people will interpret when your polemics against "privilege" IMPLY that whiteness is sinful in some sense? After reading articles that bash "whiteness," are you surprised if people think you are saying that whiteness is sinful? And when people see you giving a pass to racists from your camp while attacking them as racists, why should they think you are nothing more than racists discriminating against them?

Like it or not, how we express ourselves and what we omit is also important. People can and will read between the lines. And people will see vague general accusations against any particular race as condemnation of everyone in that particular race. That is why the idea of "systemic racism" should be rejected. Can there be racist laws and racist policies? Sure! Name them then! Don't hide behind vague accusations of "systemic racism" as if you have the privilege of making accusations which you cannot substantiate. This is where naming is important. Can you imagine if the apostle John wrote that "someone in the church" does not acknowledge our authority, instead of naming Diotrephes? Can you imagine the suspicion that everyone will have, each against his own neighbor, if John were not to name this schismatic? But naming makes the charge concrete. It points to a particular problem, and then when the problem is known, solutions and resolutions can be made to attempt to resolve the problem.

Thus, in the area of sin and accusations of sin, it is better to be specific, not general. And in the case of racism, real or perceived, name the offenders! Are you after all looking for repentance and forgiveness of the offender, or are you more interested in playing the victim and harboring bitterness in your heart? Do you actually want to solve the problems of racial discrimination, or nurture your wounds in a zero-sum game of identity politics so that the entire world can go up in flames in your act of vengeance against those who sin against you? Which do you think is the Christian approach?

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