Race, the PCA, and The Gospel Coalition

There are some things that continue to be repeated again and again, although they have been refuted over and over again. One such myth is the idea that you only use 10% of your brain. That is demonstrably false, as the brain is constantly keeping you breathing, keeping your heart beating, processing your vision, moving your body, and mediating aspects of your personality. Other such myths are that Herbert Hoover was a modern day libertarian who just wanted the government to have a hands off approach to handling The Great Depression. Hoover pushed through massive tax increases to try to handle the problems of the depression, and, indeed, Roosevelt’s New Deal actually prolonged the depression my many years!

The interesting thing about myths is that they can be used for political purposes. Obviously, the myth that you only use 10% of your brain is often used to motivate children to think more rigorously. The myth that Hebert Hoover was a modern day Milton Friedman is used to blame the continuation of The Great Depression on libertarian economic philosophy, and to try get people to avoid voting for candidates that advocate such a philosophy.

The problem is that some myths are dangerous. Many “cures” for autism involve actions that could be potentially harmful for the patient. Although higher taxes are often thought to help the poor, the reality is that those higher taxes often end up harming the poor as businesses usually take their business overseas, and leave poor people without a job. Similar unintended consequences of various myths are what I fear the PCA faces today in the growth of leftist racial philosophy within our denomination. Sadly, the arguments that are used not only have very little to do with scripture, but they also are deeply influenced by secular antibiblical philosophy such as liberalism and multiculturalism. These ideas have been refuted over and over again by *black* people like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. What is sad is that I have heard rumblings that Critical Race Theory is being borrowed by many of these people in the PCA, and that is exceedingly dangerous, as such theories basically apply Marxist ideas of economics to race. Marx would not have agreed with them, and the roots of such ideas are intellectually troubling.

However, what is amazing is the thinking and statistics that are used to justify this line of thinking. Again, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Milton Friedman and other economists and political theorists have already taken them apart. Hence, almost *nothing* in this post is going to be new. In fact, I will take most of the information in these posts from these three economists. My reason for doing so is simple. Often statistics can *hide* the truth. Mark Twain’s famous statement putting statistics in the same category as lies overstates the truth, but it, nevertheless, communicates something important. You can’t just look at the statistics. You have to *interpret* those statistics, and that means putting them in their proper framework. As we will see, people who promote these racial theories almost always stop when they get statistics that they can use to promote their agenda, but never go deeper to see if that interpretation is borne out by further analysis of the same statistics. More on that in a moment.

I first heard of this racialism in the PCA when one of the boys at church was talking about our magazine “By Faith” which had ran several articles about “racial reconciliation.” When I finally understood what they were talking about, it was extremely disturbing. Just recently, Covenant Seminary had a conference featuring these kinds of teachings. Here is an example of some of the rhetoric:

“For whites, our position as majority-culture citizens of America grants us privilege and safety that people of color are not afforded. It is good and wise that we have time together, as white people, to have honest discussion and explore the ways that we can expose our own biases and be effective in the fight for racial justice.” – Joel Littlepage

This conference is an initiative of another major player in this push, and that is the Reformed African American Network [RAAN]. Recently, one of the founders of RAAN, Jemar Tisby wrote a piece with the following rhetoric:

Black Christians long for spaces where they can be proud, black, and free.

We want places to lament when the next unarmed black person is killed by law enforcement. We want “amens” from people who understand what it’s like when a classmate or co-woker insinuates that your presence is only due to affirmative action. We want to say “That’s my jam!” when someone mentions a nineties R&B song (clearly the best era for this genre). We want to talk about what it’s like to be a black believer in a white Christian congregation.

But how can black people get this kind of communal strength when all of our gatherings are integrated?

Ben Sciacca recently wrote two articles on how to talk to your children about race. In the first article he says:

Our distinct cultures produce equally unique cultural artifacts of art, music, literature, apparel, food, and beauty. This is because our Creator endowed each of us with creative ability. The majority of these cultural artifacts should be seen as diversely wonderful and distinctively appreciated.

On the other hand, despite the fact that we are over 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Movement and the ugly days of legalized segregation, there are still systemic racial injustices in this country that frequently target people of color. I live and serve in a part of Birmingham, Alabama where most of the minority children are zoned for an under-resourced or failing school. This is educational injustice. It is rampant in cities around the nation and affects millions. These same kids live in a food desert with no access to quality grocery stores with healthy vegetables and produce. Predatory lending stores infest the neighborhood, dispensing quick loans and then charging poor and desperate people almost 500% in interest.

In the second article he says:

2. Promote diversity around the dinner table

Great things happen around the dinner table. There is almost something magical about inviting people into your home and breaking bread. Many of us find ourselves saturated in a homogenous world. We live, work, and worship predominantly with people who look a lot like us. Even if we have some diversity around us, we typically flock to “our own kind.”

It is good for our children to witness diversity in our homes. Many of our kids will meet students from different cultures at school. But in this context, their integration is somewhat forced. An invitation into our homes is an invitation into our lives.

Inviting people from different ethnicities and cultures into our homes knocks down barriers. It allows our children and us to simply behold people as people. Diversity enriches the conversations and enlarges our world. These relationships can provide healing, empathy, and understanding that would be hard to produce otherwise.

My family has been intentional about inviting a variety of people into our homes. This includes people from different cultures, even unbelievers and those from different backgrounds. In almost every case, our guests have been surprised that we would invite them over. It was something unexpected. But I can say that my family has been the beneficiaries of these meals. Our lives have been deeply enriched by the lives, the stories, the humor, and presence of our guests. The power of and the need for diverse dialog is what drove me to write my book Meals from Mars.

So, are their still problems with racism in our country? What about all of these statistics? Are they true? If so, how are they to be understood?

To answer all of these questions, we must begin with the eras of thinking among the intelligentsia about race. I am following Thomas Sowell’s outline in his books Intellectuals and Society[1] and Intellectuals and Race[2]. First in history, you had the progressive era back in the early 20th century. The progressive era was characterized by a belief that differences among races were due to genetics and genetic determinism. Thus, if you found that blacks scored worse on IQ tests than whites, it was because of their genetics. It was because they were somehow *inherently* intellectually inferior to whites. This kind of thinking led to the genocide found in the holocaust, as well as the eugenics movement and forced sterilization. Second, you had the liberal era. The liberal era represented a shift in thought to the idea that racism was a problem in the head of the white person. Thus, in essence, racism became a part of genetic determinism where whites were inherently racist simply by virtue of being whites. The final major player in this line of thinking is the era of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism basically taught that all cultures are inherently good, and such cultures must be celebrated by everyone as equal.

The problem is that these ideas, especially the latter two of multiculturalism and liberalism, become the lens through which you look at statistics, and don’t bother to go any further. One of the troubling things about intellectuals is their constant desire to use rhetoric and statistics, as Sowell says, to paint themselves on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. Thus, it is not just that liberalism or multiculturalism are their views; it is that they actively promote those things, and attack anyone who does not agree with them as a demon or “racist” in disguise. This causes them to see statistics that seem to support their views, but, when you dig further, you find that they actually do not support their contention.

So, for example, let’s take the example of lending mentioned above by Sciacca. Are those lending stores really “predatory?” Is it really the case that these lending differences are due to racism? In another article, Sowell completely takes apart the idea that these lenders are “predatory:”

However, both research and old age tend to produce skepticism about things that look plausible on the surface. Just scratching the surface a little often makes a plausible case collapse like a house of cards.

For example, neither study took credit histories into account. People with lower credit ratings tend to get turned down for loans more often than people with higher credit ratings, or else they have to go where loans have higher interest rates. This is not rocket science. It is Economics 1.

Blacks in the earlier study turned out to have poor credit histories more often than whites. But the more recent news story did not even look into that.

Anyone who has ever taken out a mortgage loan knows that the lenders not only want to know what your current income is, they also want to know what your net worth is. Census data show that blacks with the same income as whites average less net worth.

That is not rocket science either. Not many blacks have affluent parents or rich uncles from whom they could inherit wealth.

The earlier study showed that whites were turned down for mortgage loans more frequently than Asian Americans and the more recent study shows that Asian Americans are less likely than whites to take out high-cost “subprime” loans to buy a house.

Does that mean that whites were being discriminated against? Or are statistics taken seriously only when they back up some preconception that is politically correct?

Combine that with the fact that lending companies owned by black people turned down black people for mortgage loans at the same rates as lending companies owned by white people turned down black people for mortgage loans[3], and the issue becomes an open and shut case. And, of course, it is obvious that, if you have a lower credit score, and *are* able to secure a loan, the interest rates are probably going to be higher. This isn’t “predatory.” It is basic common sense.

As you can see, whenever these kinds of statistics are cited, you are going to have to consider whether “racism” is the explanation, or whether there are other economic factors that might contribute to the “disparities.” Consider Sciacca’s comment about stores in black neighborhoods:

These same kids live in a food desert with no access to quality grocery stores with healthy vegetables and produce.

There have also been complaints that stores in black neighborhoods have higher prices. The question is whether this is due to “racism,” or whether this is due to simple economics. Again, Sowell suggests:

An alternative economic explanation is that it costs more to operate stores in ghetto neighborhoods and that such costs are passed on to the consumers there. To the extent that higher costs cannot be fully passed on to the consumers, ghetto businesses would tend to be less profitable, and so such neighborhoods would attract fewer businesses in general Moreover, it is difficult to survive the competition in middle-class neighborhoods, whether because of lower efficiency or less courteous service[4].

So, what of the crime and poverty that makes these neighborhoods ghetto? Sciacca again assures us it has nothing to do with the cultures themselves. In his first article, he writes:

One has only to look at our prison system to see that the majority of men in prison are minorities, despite the fact that there is almost an equal number of crimes committed in predominantly white neighborhoods as there are in predominantly minority neighborhoods.

Of course, the problem with this is the use of the term “minorities.” Minorities are arbitrarily defined categories that include, not just blacks, but Asians, Latinos, and other groups. If Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans have low crime rates, and blacks and other groups have high crime rates, it will mean that whites and minorities will have about the same crime rates, but there will be far more minorities in prison.

However, black crime rate is much worse, and is often assumed to be so even in writings favorable to racialism. Yet, such high crime rates didn’t exist in Harlem or San Francisco back in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Many people have connected this increase in crime to the decline of the black family, but as late as 1960, 78% of black kids grew up with both a mother and a father, and all the statistics show increases in crime and drug use associated with a lack of fathers in the home. What changed was the mass migration of blacks from southern cities where they had imbibed the immoral redneck culture[5], and then, the welfare state subsidized such immorality to the point where we have it today. Combine that with a system that refuses to punish crime, and crime rates will explode. And, of course, if a particular group of people have high crime rates, you are going to have more encounters with the police, and hence, more people are going to get shot by police. As Sowell explains:

Although many people regard these “disparate impact” statistics as evidence, or virtually proof, of racial discrimination, suppose that I should tell you that black basketball players are penalized by NBA referees out of all proportion to the 13 percent that blacks are in the American population.

“Wait a minute!” you might respond. “Blacks are more than just 13 percent of the players in the NBA.”

Black basketball players are several times more numerous than 13 percent of all NBA players. This is especially so among the star players, who are more likely to be on the floor, rather than sitting on the bench. And players on the floor most are the ones most likely to get penalized.

The difference between the percentage of blacks in the general population and the percentage of blacks in the particular activity being discussed is the key to the fraudulent use of “disparate impact” statistics in many other contexts.

Often with people who promote these kind of statistics, they assume that everyone within a group is exactly the same, so that all “minorities” have identical crime rates to blacks. Often, when you start breaking down the data, you see that not all groups are identical. For example, much is made of the wage gap between blacks and whites, but, as Sowell points out, aside from the fact that almost nowhere do you find groups evenly represented [hence, it is legitimate to ask why we should use this concept of “equality” as having anything to do with justice in the first place], if you account for all of the normal economic factors that control wage, such as education, experience, etc., you will actually find that blacks make *more* depending on how you break down the data. In fact, Richard Vedder and Lowell Galloway have brought forward statistics showing that in 1890 and in 1930, black labor participation was actually *higher* than that of whites[6]. In fact, while Tisby might not like talking about affirmative action, the problem it creates for blacks is huge, because it mismatches them with schools causing needless failure. Sowell relates a personal story of how 50% of black students were on some kind of academic probation at Cornell. It wasn’t that this kids were stupid, as they scored in the top 25% in math. But Cornell was geared to the top 1%, and they got left behind creating needless failure. This *also* contributes to problems with black income. One could also mention problems with the minimum wage law, which Milton Friedman called the most anti-black law on the books, because it prices low skilled black workers out of a job. Even Karl Marx himself knew that minimum wage was not the solution to these problems, but employment was.

Indeed, what is interesting with people like Tisby wanting to connect this kind of poverty and crime to black identity, and saying they need spaces “to lament when the next unarmed black person is killed by law enforcement” is that these things did not exist with blacks in the past. If it is part of black identity, were the blacks in Harlem in the 1930s not really blacks? Why is it that these things have only come about recently?

About the only thing I agree with these people on is education. Yes, blacks receive a *horrible* education. However, the question I must ask is whether it is due to racism or due to politics. When you have powerful teachers unions whose main goal is for people to keep their jobs, do you think they are going to want those bad schools to shut down. Furthermore, since these schools are often government run, do you think politicians up for elections want these schools to shut down? That is why you have the constant opposition from politicians to things like school choice and vouchers which would break this monopoly. So, again, while I agree that this is a problem, there is no evidence that it is due to “systemic racism.” In fact, Sowell gives the example of Dubar High School which used to be an extremely prestigious all black High School in New York. It used to put out graduates that would go to Ivy League schools long before affirmative action. Yet, now it is just a ghetto school. Are we seriously suggesting there is more racism today than back then?

The problem is, with all these issues from loans and economics to crime, it appears that there has been a change in the black culture. I already mentioned the absorption of redneck culture from the south, but I think that Sciacca’s comments above extolling diversity and multiculturalism are actually the problem. In all of this discussion of diversity, where is any evidence ever asked for or brought forward? You can see the philosophy of multiculturalism I spoke of at the beginning showing through, and being given a Christian flavor. The problem is that certain cultures are good at some things, but often not at others. Take Japan who was lagging far behind in industry and technology until they realized the United States was far ahead of them in those areas. Instead of blaming those buying products for being racist against Asians, they set up America as the standard of business and industry, and sought to learn how the did it, even sending their students to America to study. As a result, their GDP rose to the point where they are one of the most powerful economic forces on the face of the planet[7]. Sowell mentions how the Scots learning English and the Czechs learning German helped them to improve. And, of course, I think white Americans could improve by looking at how hard Asians work. Still, all cultures can improve, and the question is whether the things Tisby and Sciacca mention are the result defect in black culture or racism. It is *assumed* to be the latter, but never proven, and, indeed, much evidence shows it is the former, not the latter.

Evidence that this is cultural can be seen in that the same kind of crime and poverty is found in other cultures that have low morals and high crime rates and are likewise the target of welfare. Consider a book like Life at the Bottom[8], which chronicles the Underling class in England which looks very much like black culture here in the United States in terms of crime and poverty. In fact, they are often shot by police at such a high rate that they view the police as discriminating against them. As a result, they often riot with riots looking very much like Ferguson or Baltimore. One problem: They are not a different race from the rest of the population. What it shows is that this kind of violence and hatred among groups is quite common in situations like this.

However, it would be too reductionistic to say it is black culture alone that is causing these problems. As I alluded to earlier, intellectuals promote this kind of multiculturalism, and view any problem within cultures as a result of “discrimination.” This kind of thinking, however, tore up Sri Lanka, taking peaceful people from two different religions, and turning Sri Lanka into a violent bloodbath. Indeed, the more a society looks like liberal diversity and multiculturalism, the more susceptible it is to such violence. I am not saying that all blacks are a part of this black redneck culture. Indeed, many blacks have been speaking out against it far longer than I have.

That is why I echo the concerns of people like Todd Pruitt, James White, and the signers of this statement that this could bring severe division into the church to the point of even violence and blood. Sadly, intellectuals divide society in ways *they* want to see society divided, either to get votes, to sell books, or to continue a brand or a cause. Statistics like those cited by Tisby and Sciacca should cause blacks, whites, or anyone on the short end of those statistics to ask how they can improve themselves as a culture. It should cause us to ask why it is that our culture is not doing so well in those areas, and others are, rather than attributing it to malice from others. If we interpret high crime rates as a need for more morals in your culture, economic problems as a need to gain more economic skill in your culture, and education problems as a need for better education in your culture rather than blaming someone else, I think *all* groups will be better off. Yet, that doesn’t make you an angel against the forces of the evil racists, and probably won’t get you book sales, votes, or any other position of prominence.

Still, my plea to the PCA is to recognize the serious danger here. Beware that automatically interpreting disparities as “institutional racism” or any form of racism for that matter can, itself, belie a hidden racism. Yes, intellectuals on the left want blacks to take these statistics in this way. That is how they get their votes year after year, and how Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson bring in their millions. However, it trains people to hate one another out of envy, and such hatred can cause, not just division, but, if the evidence from places like England, Sri Lanka, Baltimore and Ferguson are any indication, it could also cause mass violence. We don’t want that in the Church. The embrace of this kind of multiculturalism may give you solidarity with African Americans, but it will be solidarity based on something that could end up harming both African Americans and white people in our churches.

More than that, I am also concerned that we in the PCA be willing to warn black people of the dangers inherent in this kind of redneck culture. The more we try to pretend that this is black, and that this will actually help black people, the more we are not giving them the gospel, as the gospel says to repent of such sinful behavior and turn to Christ. If we promote these ideas, we are promoting the failure of black people, plain and simple. True love for our neighbor involves telling them when there are elements in their culture that could hurt them, and that sinful behavior has consequences. That is why I would say that the PCA must stand against multiculturalism, and work with all cultures to bring the transforming power of the gospel to each culture. If we do not, we could see people in those cultures die both in this life and in the next life.

[1]Sowell, Thomas. Intellectuals and Society. Basic Books. New York, NY. 2011. pgs. 441-467.

[2]Sowell, Thomas. Intellectuals and Race. Basic Books. New York, NY. 2013. pgs. 21-43; 86-106.

[3]Sowell. Intellectuals and Society. p.132

[4] Sowell, Thomas. Economic Facts and Fallacies p.176

[5] Sowell, Thomas. Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Encounter Books. 2006.

[6] Vedder, Richard. Galloway, Lowell. “Declining Black Employment.” Society. July-August 1993. p.57

[7] Sowell, Thomas. Intellectuals and Society. pgs.461-462

[8] Dalrymple, Theodore. Life at the Bottom. Ivan R. Dee Publishing. Chicago, IL. 2001.


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