The failure of strict confessionalism: Racism and the failure to love
Racism and the Reformed Tradition
With the main expression of the Reformed tradition currently in North America, the Reformed tradition unfortunately has to struggle with American history, specifically the history of slavery and racism. Americans in the late 19th century fought a civil war to end slavery, but ending racism proved more elusive.
During the American civil war, it is undeniable that Southern Presbyterian theologians like Robert Lewis Dabney promote racism under the Reformed banner. While I am not one of those who will reject everything someone says merely because of gross sin and wickedness, Dabney’s racism still needs to be called out and rejected. Unfortunately, Dabney continues to be promoted without qualification, and his ideas live on in the movement called “Kinism,” mediated by people such as R. J. Rushdoony, the father of the right-wing fringe movement Christian Reconstructionism, with which kinists have a natural affinity to. While not disagreeing with everything that the movement advocates for, the fact of the matter is that the Reformed tradition has a problem with racism from the right.
“Kinism” can be stated as the view that the “races” of the world are ordained by God to be kept separate, and thus the mixing of peoples and most definitely inter-racial marriages (miscegenation) are sinful. Spoken or not, it comes with the view that the “white race” is superior and should not be led by the “lesser races,” a view that permeates parts of Reformed Christianity in the US, even those not overtly kinist, despite it being verbally denied. In my experience, while one can certainly be members of and serve in Reformed churches, if one is not white ‘culturally,’ it is almost impossible to be treated equally and to be taken seriously. The “white man’s burden” continues to be a problem in many American Reformed circles, and the idea that non-whites are to be patronized instead of treated with respect as equals is something I have personally experienced.
American racism from the left
If one thinks right-wing racism is bad, the left-wing version is even worse. After all, society has made right-wing racism unacceptable in much of modern society. Embraced by liberals who believe they are really open-minded, loving and tolerant, and most definitely against racism, left-wing racism became popular as Critical Race Theory erupted into the scene after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States in 2016. It seems that the key to solving the real problems of racism, the consequences of racism, and the Democrat mismanagement of America’s major cities, was to blame “white supremacy,” attack “whiteness,” demand reparations and affirmative action, and call for all forms of special treatment of “People of Color” (POC), which they interpret through Marxist lens to apply only to non-whites who are “oppressed” (so ‘Asians’ do not qualify). All of a sudden, you have those more liberal-minded Christians in the Reformed camp embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory and calling for the need for “racial justice.”
As with most theories, Critical Race Theory can be critically analyzed and engaged with, not rejected outright. However, the essence of Critical Race Theory is racist and antithetical to biblical Christianity. Critical Race Theory sees everything in racial categories, and attacks the very notion of “color-blindness,” the idea that one should not discriminate on the basis of one’s skin color and thus ethnicity. Many woke advocates see “color-blindness” as a rejection of their innate racial differences, which is a false interpretation of “color-blindness” – a rejection of innate racial differences only in the sense that they should not be used for discriminatory purposes. Color-blindness is a rejection of what racism is – discrimination based on one’s skin color and ethnicity, and thus a focus on our common humanity, all humans being equal in the eyes of God.
In my experience interacting with Americans as wokeness enveloped their nation, I was shocked at how people can be previously outwardly friendly yet react so vehemently when their embrace of left-wing racism was called out. Right-wing racism sees non-whites as “inferior races” to be patronized, as “converted heathen” who should be grateful for the “white man” bringing the Gospel of salvation to them. But if you think left-wing racists treat non-whites with respect, you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, it almost seems that left-wing racism allows one to suddenly vent one’s repressed racism in a socially acceptable way.
For the next section, it will be mostly anecdotal evidence, based on my “lived experience” (to use one of those neologisms), especially since I did not take snapshots of the incidents.
My personal encounters with left-wing racism were certainly eye-opening for me. One such encounter was back in 2018, as the staff at the White Horse Inn veered towards promoting “racial justice” issues. On one tweet on the Modern Reformation Twitter account back then, I had responded to it with a ping to Michael Horton pleading for him to stop promoting such trash. The response from whoever was behind the Modern Reformation Twitter account then was nasty, to say the least. Of course, I unfollowed the account after some attempts at communication.
On another incident on Facebook, I had attempted trying to get a former acquaintance from my seminary to veer away from such nonsense, to no avail. What made it sadder was that of another acquittance who mocked my comments, making it seem I am just calling wolf “to the left.”
That same acquaintance subsequently claimed I am too tightly wound, evidently thinking racism is no big deal and that the correct response was to do “triage” and ignore left-wing racism. He subsequently managed to block me before I could unfriend him, but this episode shows that for many white Americans, even those that call themselves Reformed (or for those who went full steam into the woke movement, “formerly called themselves Reformed”), racism is evidently not a big deal.
The failure to excise racism and American narcissism
What does this mean for Reformed Confessionalism? On the one hand, nothing. The failure of individual Reformed Christians, even Reformed Confessionalists, is the fault of the persons and not any one doctrine or movement. On the other hand, it matters a lot, because Reformed Confessionalism in its strict form claim to move Reformed Christians to being biblical in both faith and life, and to unity in the bond of Christ. For a movement that promised right living, is toleration of various forms of racism acceptable? What is the use of being “Truly Reformed” if one remains a racist? Jesus says that a good tree bears good fruit, and you will know them by their fruits (cf. Matt. 7:17-20).
In R. Scott Clark’s book Recovering the Reformed Confessions, he mentioned Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Herman Bavinck, and J. Gresham Machen, who he claims would be excluded by a boundary marker that makes 6/24 creation necessary for orthodoxy. In his own words, “any boundary marker, however, that includes the Adventist and excludes Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, and Machen should not commend itself to confessional Reformed folk as a way to mark out Reformed identity.” Well, many Reformed pastors and theologians in the past were racists, like RL Dabney, so I guess any boundary marker that includes the liberals and excludes Reformed theologians like Dabney “should not commend itself to confessional Reformed folk as a way to mark out Reformed identity”? Presumably, Reformed Confessionalism according to Dr. Clark can exists side by side with racism, although one can still assert that racism is a sin. But well, so is gluttony, which many Americans are guilty of, so I guess: What’s the big deal anyway? As one liberal I used to interact with (in a different context) used to say with regards to the presence of neo-Nazis, “Well, there are neo-Nazis everywhere, so what?”
The failure to excise racism shows the American captivity of the American Reformed churches, from which strict Reformed Confessionalism has emerged. This American narcissism is seen most clearly in my last experience on this topic I am sharing here. I had a friend who is doing church planting in the Chicago area. For whatever reason, he leans into the social justice movement while claiming that he rejects Critical Race Theory. When he had posted a video promoting the TGC AND campaign trying to seek a “middle way” embracing both Christianity and “social justice” concerns, I responded to it in a blog post. I pleaded with him not to promoted this kind of racist trash, but was rebuffed. One of the points I had conveyed was how promoting such racial stuff would cause problems in other countries including my home country of Singapore. In his response, he essentially told me that what such woke stuff does in other countries is not his concern. In other words, screw the world, as long as ‘Murica has “justice.” The fact that Christina Edmonson, wife of OPC pastor Mika Edmonson, was promoting racist trash without repercussion is indeed a serious point of concern, all while they were at one time serving in the Chicago area, a point I also made in response to him, without avail.
Strict Reformed Confessionalism, or basically Reformed Confessionalism in the hands of white American theologians, has proven itself unable to excise racism from her midst. Strict Reformed Confessionalism is also culturally bound to America, despite its claim to be just Reformed, and partakes of all the malaise infecting American society, including her narcissistic view of the world. In other words, strict Reformed Confessionalism is American, and not truly Reformed.