Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Please Reconcile: What this is about

Joy McCarnan wrote the note I really wanted to write regarding the letter over at http://www.please-reconcile.org/. Rather than try to rewrite what she has already so eloquently said, I asked her if I could just copy her post here. The original is at her blog, karagraphy.

I rejoice and cringe at this excerpt from the 2006 Together for the Gospel statement of Affirmations and Denials (Article XVII). Thabiti Anyabwile cited these words in his T4G’08 sermon that I recently recommended, Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church:

We affirm that God calls his people to display his glory in the reconciliation of the nations within the Church, and that God’s pleasure in this reconciliation is evident in the gathering of believers from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. We acknowledge that the staggering magnitude of injustice against African-Americans in the name of the Gospel presents a special opportunity for displaying the repentance, forgiveness, and restoration promised in the Gospel. We further affirm that evangelical Christianity in America bears a unique responsibility to demonstrate this reconciliation with our African-American brothers and sisters.

We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel.

http://www.please-reconcile.orgMy skeptical fellow-alumni who hold views similar to mine about the ungodliness that comprises racism, about the private interpretations and cruddy exegesis that spawn ungodly racist theology, and about the ungodly shame it is to "sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate"--those who hold these views in common with me, yet who refuse to have anything to do with this open letter soon to be presented to the administration of Bob Jones University--this note’s for you. (Some of you may've already read my verbose, if not so eloquent, signature.) Now I want to answer some questions I’ve been asked since I signed on. And then, I think you already know what ONE question I still am asking you--I’ll ask it again.

Please note that the site's FAQs page would be very helpful for those who still have questions.

1. You have asked me why a public letter is a legitimate approach. I have answered that, for years, members of the administration have been pled with and confronted privately by fellow-administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends --yet have apparently dismissed these attempts as insubstantial, anti-Scriptural, over-reactionary, disloyal, or unimportant. Whatever the rationale, previous efforts have gone unheeded. As an institution, BJU’s past racist posture and policies have become what put BJU on the map. The stories have had time to pass down a couple of generations and to wrap around the globe. To say that BJU’s reputation for sinful attitudes and actions against minority ethnicities is widely-known and even more widely rumored is to understate grossly the reality. The ramifications of this poor testimony (including its ongoing diminishing of the Gospel) are still on the rampage. Especially when news of the damage done is already so publicly published, the normal parameters of biblical "due process" (as seen within an ecclesiastical context in Matthew 5, Matthew 18, Galatians 6, etc.) become difficult to navigate in the context of a para-church organization whose leaders have subjected themselves to ecclesiastical accountability only in varying degrees and in varying relationships. Other approaches have been tried. The mess is a public one and no less messy for all the fuss it’s stirred up over the years. This, an open letter from a coalition of likeminded and loving alumni, IS the best next step.

2. You have asked me what possible good could come of alumni’s calling further attention to BJU’s past failures. A family’s dirty laundry is embarrassing, and it is never a fair or whole representation of the family itself. But it can’t go on hanging out forever, and the lingering stench of it prevents a permanent cover-up. Love covers a multitude of evils, but family members do one another injustice (and Christians do Christ’s Gospel an injustice) when we turn a blind eye to unrepented-of sin, including the sinfulness of refusing to acknowledge sin or to attempt to make amends. Some might argue that "it’s not my place" (as a plebeian nobody, as a woman, etc.). Others (pastors and so forth) "whose place it might be" may argue that they don’t want to abuse their positions of influence or speak on behalf of their congregations. But--like it or not, cognizant or not--I made a statement of individual assent when I chose to attend BJU. And I made a promise of individual responsibility when I left BJU with my degrees in hand. It is my duty to say something. The pledge we made upon graduation is actually one thing that very much compels me to get behind what some have called a "disrespectful" and "pointless" cause. The pledge was NOT to keep BJU from changing per se; in fact, part of the pledge was that we would do the best within our power to confront the university when we find it to be in known error, and that we would do our best either to see error righted OR else to see to it that the university shuts its doors! An interpretation of that pledge as merely preventive of change is in itself an egregious misunderstanding of the point for which the pledge exists. I can completely identify with the sadness you might feel and the regret that people we love and admire (godly people!) may be disappointed or hurt by this letter. But the letter was written truthfully and faithfully and lovingly--with an overarching commitment to God and God's people in mind. Better are the wounds of a faithful friend than the embrace of an enemy.

3. You have asked me (seeing as I’m so enthusiastically on board the “racial reconciliation” bandwagon now) how I went to BJU in good conscience and how it could be that I said nothing at the time. Personally, I can plead “ignorant white girl” to some extent because I was largely unaware of what had gone on and what was still going on during my years at BJU. I was not cool enough to be looped into the circles of the “elite” during my undergrad years, and I had few occasions to mingle with the few minority “poster children” because everybody wanted a piece of them. They were popular novelties, and I wasn’t therefore privy to their more private stories of the prices they paid, the remarks that scathed, the emotions they felt as they endured the reconstruction of their cultural backgrounds and watched their unique identities forcibly lumped into differentness/discrimination or melted into sameness/assimilation. For non-minority ethnicities to generalize that "racism wasn't that bad when I was there" or "racism's not happening now" or "everybody's blowing this out of proportion" is poor reasoning and presumptuous thinking! How can Caucasians pontificate about what life was like behind the scenes or in the P.O. boxes of the "others"? This is where our liberal arts education ought to come in handy--thinking through what we say, recognizing and dismissing false syllogisms and groupthink ideologies. What little racism I did hear about, I failed to recognize for what it was. I never researched or verified. I pooh-poohed. I procrastinated. I dismissed. I skeptically speculated about the motives behind complaints. And I would have to say that my understanding of the Gospel has morphed dramatically in the last ten years to the point where I am only now beginning to see how gravely it’s been trampled upon. Tim and Rebecca and Jon and Beth and others who helped to draft this letter have gifts of articulation that many of us do not. They have compiled the documentation. They have collated the thoughts of countless alumni (since we know that those of you who think this way must number far more than 500). I wish I had been on the bandwagon sooner, but the fact that I am only just now getting on doesn’t invalidate the cause of racial reconciliation.

4. You have asked me whether I have time to pour into defending and promoting and praying over this campaign. Frankly, I don’t; and neither did anyone else involved. The few hours I have invested in it will not be enough, but I don’t regret what I and others have spent. It should’ve been more; it may’ve been more if more of you had taken time out to read and consider more seriously, earlier on. I regret that I didn’t have more time, and I regret that more of us didn’t use the time we had.

5. You have asked me how a public statement of apology and resolve from BJU could possibly NOT be received as too little, too late. For one thing, I’ll reiterate that the end--whatever comes of this--does not determine the validity of the cause, and a projected negative outcome could not absolve me of the responsibility to join the effort that the folks who put together www.please-reconcile.org initiated. The Gospel has been publicly undermined, and this is a chance to broadcast a just-as-public declaration of genuine regret for the past and God-focused, others-conscious resolve for the future. The media’s/public-access perception of the reality (whether real or perceived reality) is precisely what this plea for a counteractive statement is all about. The media’s/public-access documentation of how the university currently stands (if indeed it has moved positions and would refute racist attitudes now) and of why it currently stand there (if indeed the previous rationale has been vanquished) ought to be just as public in scope and just as accessible as the public documentation available to the contrary. Sure, it may very well be "too little, too late." A public statement of apology could never begin to make literal amends for the wrongs done. But "too little, too late" does not amount to a legitimate reason to continue skirting the issue. It is pretty literally clear in the Bible that racism and racist transgressions against people are blatantly AGAINST God’s Word to us, and that calling for demonstrations of humility and grace and love and faithfulness is calling for something far more in tune with God's character and commands. For the university’s administration to put itself forward in an act of willing vulnerability and humility to say "we were wrong; please forgive us" would do only good for the testimony of Jesus Christ, would do only good for the testimony of the university, and would do only good for the Church. I can’t think of one bad thing it would accomplish!

Again: Racist principles supposedly derived from God’s Word, no matter how faithfully desired or sincerely held, are indefensible when they tread all over God's glory and God's people and God's agenda as laid out clearly in black and white in God’s Word! Our allegiance to those latter causes--God's clear self-revelations of His own character, God's clear mandates for how to treat one another, especially one another in the household of faith!--ought to take precedence over lesser allegiances. I am profoundly grateful for my alma mater, but I do not "stand firm with the university" across the board. This is definitely an instance where the university is best served by alumni who are willing to be faithful to causes greater than the university.

So, yeah. That one question I have for those who still doubt that lasting good could possibly come of a plea like the one detailed on www.please-reconcile.org, here goes: Have you ever actually, personally, thoughtfully read the contents of that website?

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