12 November 2014

My Last Post on Race

by The Late Frank Turk

Since coming back from Hiatus, I have laid down a lot of self-imposed blogging limits.  No more Mark Driscoll posts.  No posts which wouldn't serve as Sunday School material.  No more Global Warming posts, no more political posts (those two I haven't made much of, but note it).  No more posts about TGC.  It seems like all the things you might expect from a menace who must be stopped is ending, and the show is getting new writers.

Anyway, this video turned up last week:

Black and White: Learning from Ferguson Together from Desiring God on Vimeo.

And Thabiti is, frankly one of those guys I only want the best for. He seems like the most human and the most natural of the T4G luminaries, and frankly I just like him.  I like his books.  I like his blog.  Every time I see him speak to people, I like the way he treats people.  I want to actually meet him someday, but because I am also swearing off conferences which are not at my local church I think that's entirely unlikely.

Also, while I hold him in high esteem, I am still a fan of him as a public mediator on the subject of race in America.  I am 100% certain he is one of the guys who is rightly theologically moored to handle the discussion; I am also certain his personal experience has something to teach us about this issue.

Last, before I say what I have to say here, I had a private on-line conversation with him about this subject which, frankly, was not my best interpersonal moment, and while you will never see it, let me say that he was the better man in that exchange who called a brother to repent and to turn away from sin, so I also owe him a spiritual due.

I cannot say enough good about Thabiti because he's obviously full of grace and truth.

So in order to not hurt myself by now saying, "yeah but ...," I am going to offer some bullet points about this video, and this will be my final post about race and theology ever on the internet.
  • Time 0:44 - 2:44
    • While Thabiti starts by saying there is something he has learned, it's actually about something he wants other people to learn.  While I think what he says in the last 60 second of that piece of this video is interesting and useful for me personally (it's a version of this post from 2008), I think that there is something being missed in making that point.  Personally, I am 100% confident that the police have done wrong to young black men in America.  I'm not sure conflating that with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson (which is what Thabiti does in making his point) makes this discussion better.
  • Time 2:44 - 3:12
    • The reason why we shouldn't say more about the issue in the previous 2 minutes is that Thabiti cleans it up himself.  He recognizes that there is a problem of conflation, and a problem of profiling on both sides due to (using his phases) the history between blacks and the police.  It's right of him to point it out.
  • Time 3:12 - 4:15
    • My first reaction to this segment about the center of modern civil rights leadership is, "from your lips to God's ear."  If this were also true about "white" America, I think a new and more productive dialog could take place.
  • Time 4:15 - 6:32
    • The question of the discipline of the original civil rights movement vs. the current iteration of community action is a very good one, and his point about the Christian roots of the civil rights movement in the 50's and 60's is utterly necessary.  Anyone who ignores this is missing a huge difference between what happened then and what is happening, and how it is lead, right now.
  • Time 6:32 - End
    • I think this is the weakest part of the whole video for one reason only: the side being tarred as evil (I think: unjustly) is also being lectured for somehow usurping the dignity of the other side for complaining about the injustice of the charges against them.  What I think Thabiti has meant to say here is that there's a way to mourn with those who are mourning that gives them dignity while they are mourning, and that there should be a way to distinguish between language from pain and language meant to advance the conversation.  What he has instead wound up saying, it seems to me, is that when one group lashes out in pain and labels another group "X", the group labelled "X" doesn't have any ground to object until the time of mourning is over.
That's it.  Saying more than that would be piling on.  If you want to know what I really think about race and the Gospel, go here and read all the posts.


Frank Turk said...

As a postScript, Dan previewed this post and made the remark that I shouldn't close the door as other important opportunities may present themselves on this topic. Because I am grateful for his encouragement, I think it's a fair concern. However, the one thing interacting with this topic has taught me personally is that the greatest issue afoot here is that many people are married to their opinions in this matter, and what they have joined together I will not be able to tear asunder.

Listen: I'm the guy who wrote that in order to preach the gospel to someone, you first need to be sure that what they are hearing is not the message, "I will smash your face in." But the other side of that coin is that when both sides think violence is actually part of the conversation -- to the point that both sides have astonishingly-polite ways of justifying looting and the casual use of fire arms -- there's no room for correctives. There's no bridge to cross because all the bridges are burning.

This is my last post on race. You can't drag me back into this discussion until or unless there's a radical change in the way it will be conducted.

Robert said...

I am more than willing to own up to the fact that there has been a history of abuse towards African Americans. Things have improved, but it is still a problem. I think it is a tragedy that a young man is shot and killed. I think it is also a tragedy that a young man gets to the point where it is normal for him to steal, push around a shop owner, and just walk off. Yet, we are all so desensitized to both of these things that we just act like these things are normal and to be expected.

I guess I feel like part of the story is being left out here. Part of that is from my own experiences growing up in a town that has always had a strong racial divide. I often have felt hostility directed towards me from African Americans just because I am white. It could be as simple as trying to speak to cashiers at Wal-Mart or as difficult as dealing with people at work and hostile attitudes there. At least at work, the attitudes could change over time as people got to know me. I think we are dealing with a battle of presuppositions here. And if we don't all set our presuppositions in a Biblical framework (all people are created in the image of God, the first side of the story sounds right until you hear the complete story, etc.), then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Hopefully that is what Thabiti is getting at when he points to the Christian roots of the Civil Rights movement. That would be a win-win situation if we start heading that direction.

todd wilkinson said...

Well, I don’t want to give you a sermon Frank but one of the things that I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John is our Lord’s consistent concern for individuals. I love how John highlights individual miracles and individual positive responses to the Lord. The Pharisees and Sadducees consistently are seen in groups but the Lord’s attention to individuals is amazing.

I say all of this to inform you that I am an individual who has benefited from your posts on race. I concur that the majority of groups involved in this conversation, on both sides, are deaf, blind and loud. Don’t listen, don’t see but boy can they talk. I agree with you 100%. However, there are individuals who, if not being changed, are at least being sharpened, by your reasoning, compassion and firmness.

Full disclosure. I am a 34 year old African American preacher who serves as Senior Pastor to an African American congregation. Your insights help serve me and the congregation I serve. There are not many people I can read concerning racial issues because of their tone. Also, there are not many people I can read concerning racial issues because of their doctrine. (Without pointing out particular names I am including the majority people on your blogroll. Not to disrespect any of them, because I do benefit from some of their strengths, but to point out the very balanced even-handedness in which you post) Rather I agree or disagree with your posts I must say that I am always sharpened. Your posts, when they are not teaching me biblical truths about race, are at least assisting me in articulating biblical truths about race.

So please, reconsider your position. I understand that the whole world is under the sway of the evil one but there are individuals who greatly benefit from your work. Allow me to also apologize for my silence. If someone cooks a good meal you can at least say thank you. I am truly sorry that it has taken me this long to express my gratefulness. I am grateful and I thank you for you time and labors on a very important subject.

3rd John 2

Morris Brooks said...

I made the comment on your first post, post-Ferguson, about the race issue is that racism is a knife that cuts both ways, and it most surely is.

I was fortunate, that growing up the the boonies of West Texas, that I was never exposed to the racial divide that many have been. My own Father, even though not a Christian, was a great example of treating all people with dignity and respect, and was an example for me of going out of the way to help the small group of black people in our small town. He was also not one to use racial slurs. The black people in town and school were just people, we hung out and played sports together...all of this being in the time of desegregation and MLK. There is more to be said, but I want to keep this as short as possible.

However, when I went to college, and since then I have run across racism, a more veiled racism of blacks against whites. And much to my chagrin and disappointment I continue to run across it in black Christians. Most often it comes in the form of suspicion, a questioning of motives, and the assumption that I am a racist just because I am white...the being guilty of bigotry just because I am white.

I have much the same admiration and respect for Thabiti that you do. I read his blog, listen to his sermons from T4G, and admire his reasoned approach to the Christian life. However, I was very disappointed in his post about his being afraid for his son after the Ferguson events started. His incipient racism came to the forefront in that post.

For too long, the issue of racism has been one-sided, with those who are white automatically being assumed and labeled as racist, guilty without evidence, and, therefore, always having to be on the defensive. For us in the Christian community to really get the race issue settled among us, once and for all, the black Christians will need to confess their own racism. their own bigotry, their own assumptions of white guilt just because we are white. It is time for the black Christians to look into their own souls and come to grips with and confess their own racism. Black racism has been the gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about.

Thabiti, might just be the person to begin this healing process. I hope he is.

DJP said...

Todd's comment makes my day — and he isn't even talking about something I wrote! Gives me hope, though; I've become discouraged on this issue lately.

Frank Turk said...

I have to be honest: I have a hard time really listening to or saying the things white people are right now prone to say (and Morris did, above). My problem is not that I don't agree with what they mean: my problem is that framing the conversation that way is just trying to reason out of racism by using the racist paradigm for collectivizing justice, guilt, virtue, etc.


Frank Turk said...


In the video, Thabiti touches on this in the first 3 minutes -- and our take-away ought to be that we need to avoid both extremes. Those extremes are the one end where we cannot see the forest for the trees, and the other end is where we thing every tree is part of the same forest. For those who don't follow my metaphors, on one end we ignore trend lines which are revealed in statistical data, and on the other we assume trend lines and pack every individual into the trend whether he is part of it or not.

Our first goal in this conversation has to be to abandon both sorts of racism for something Gospel-filled. And for something to be Gospel-filled, it has to deal in three categories: Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

For those of you still reading, let me suggest something to you: I am not white people. I am Frank. You are not black people. You are who you are. My promise to you is to treat you like you are who you are -- as God created you in his image, and also with all your faults, under the cover of the work of Christ. So even if everyone you self-identify with is a liar, I will not treat you as a liar until you lie to me. But if everyone I am self-identified with is a murderer, I expect that you will not treat me as a murderer until or unless I have murdered.

If we can start there, and stop pretending that you are guilty of something you have never considered and I am guilty of something I have never imagined, then I'll bet the next sentence can be constructive.


Frank Turk said...

Todd --

Thanks for the encouragement.

When the Gospel parts we have presented open up doors, I'll walk into them.

Robert said...

I love the follow-up comments and conversation here. In light of them, I almost feel like striking through the second half of my first comment. When we really live in light of the truth of the Gospel, we can then overlook any offense against us because we realize God has taken the penalty for every offense we have committed against Him. And everybody needs to live in light of that reality...that is the greatest need of people on both sides of this and every other issue.

I am the prodigal son that God ran to, embraced, set in a place of an honored son, and showered with love even though I rejected Him. Who am I to hold any offense against anybody? Why not take the time to shine some light into the lives of others in hopes that they can look to Him Who heals all of our wounds and provides the salvation we all need?

Jim Pemberton said...

What I hate about issues like this is that it ends up restricting possibly helpful comments based on a fallacy that I don't know has been cataloged yet. Namely, the sentiment is that white people aren't allowed to comment because they can't understand what black people feel. There are a number of observations to make.

1) It helps to have neutral feedback. Noting that there truly is no neutral feedback possible here, humility requires we seriously consider reasonable observations from the other side of the issue.

2) It's not necessarily true that white people don't understand how black people feel. Some white people have actually been in similar circumstances. There are also analogs to racial discrimination. It can also be turned around to say that black people don't know how white people feel. It's not necessarily true.

3) There is a significant and growing population of multi-ethnic people in the United States. The arguments of racial conflict often ring hollow in their ears.

4) To what extent is repentance enough to merit forgiveness? That's a multidimensional question. To what extent should an individual be aware of his sin to warrant forgiveness? To what extent does this apply to the number of people given that this is an issue generalized corporately from the actions of individuals? To what extent should individuals pay for the sins of their forebears? To what extent should forgiveness be extended to giving individuals the benefit of the doubt for actions or intents that we can't be clear on? TO what extent should the Christian community be involved with the lack of ability of secular society to extend forgiveness based on Christian principles?

While the original sin of this issue was clearly among whites, the solution at this point requires effort by both parties.

Daryl said...


Perhaps walk through the opening rather than into the open doors.

Hurts less.

Doesn't leave a mark.

Michael said...

Frank, you can write about what you want to write about, but I hope you are inspired (or dismayed enough) to write more on this topic in the future. Your Gospel-centered analysis of the issue is very important to hear especially by those of us(me) with somewhat ingrained stereotypical notions.
Michael R.

Morris Brooks said...

"I have to be honest: I have a hard time really listening to or saying the things white people are right now prone to say (and Morris did, above). My problem is not that I don't agree with what they mean: my problem is that framing the conversation that way is just trying to reason out of racism by using the racist paradigm for collectivizing justice, guilt, virtue, etc."

Frank, I am not trying to reason out of racism by using the racist paradigm. In fact, I resisted saying this in the previous posts because I anticipated the response you gave, and expected to be misunderstood.

Racism is real for all involved, and is the sin of not loving our neighbor; but, not everyone is guilty of racism...black or white. However, those who claim to be Christians who are guilty of racism, no matter their color should confess and repent. All Christians, no matter the color/ethnicity, should be held accountable in this area. No one gets a free pass, and we all should speak the truth in love. True racial reconciliation (I am talking about in the church here) will not occur until that happens.

Someone who is black and Christian needs to be saying the same thing that you are. I have not seen that person since MLK. Thabiti's T4G sermon regarding ethnicity sets the biblical framework for this issue, and if you have not listened to it you should. This sermon is why I was disappointed in his post-Ferguson post.

Frank Turk said...

Morris --

Let me begin by saying that I do not think you are a racist.

But with that affirmation (denial?) on the table, when we reason that "[race] people ought to do [thing]," that's reasoning using the racist paradigm, right? "the belief that all members of [any] race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."

That's why talking in general about the problem and the solution seems to me to be pointless.

On the other hand, let's consider that there are some issues which look systemic -- because you can't really talk about "police are prone to [action]" as a problem with the race of police officers -- they are not all the same race. But they are the same office, yes? And if it turns out that this office somehow is doing something to one group demographic group which it is not doing to another, we ought to be looking for root causes -- and because race is not a common denominator in the category "police," blaming "racism" may not yield a workable solution.

My point being this: I think white people ought not to tell black people what to do because the idea that anyone speaks for "white people" is over-stated, and that anyone is listening for "black people" is unfounded. Same goes for the other way around. But if you want to talk to me about trends in law enforcement and trends in criminal delinquency and how they are related, let's do that -- you talk to me, I'll talk to you. We can identify trends which may be unjust or even scary, but we don't wind up villainizing each other by doing so. And when we can talk about this as sinners on an equal footing before God? we have a chance at least to commiserate.

Jason Dohm said...

I have spent time in Malawi, Africa on two different occasions over the last two years. Both times, there were instances where I was acutely aware of being in a very small minority. It was a new sensation, and just the simple awareness that "the view from the bridge" is different when you are in a very small minority has given me a different perspective. Call it a "duh" moment if you must, but it was significant for me.

Doug Hibbard said...

The trends you speak of are very real, and what we must, as a society, eventually realize is that the "you talk to me, I talk to you" approach is actually the only way to fix the trends.

Back in high school, a few decades ago, our school district was part of a desegregation lawsuit. In fact, it's just now finishing up--Frank's likely aware of it as he lives in the same area.

All anyone was interested was fixing the 'numbers,' to the point that some really insane ideas were being pursued to fudge the 'numbers.' Students were transferred (or at least strongly encouraged to transfer) to what would best be called "bubble schools" that specialized in certain areas. Not pure magnet schools, but bubbles inside existing schools. The point? When standardized tests rolled around, those students would test with the whole school--making the 'numbers' look better.

And we still have substantial disparity in educational and economic achievement in this state, despite such efforts. And despite having both major party philosophies govern across those two decades.


Because it's a person-to-person issue, a people issue, not a statistical one. The stats show the issue, show the problem. But massaging the stats, or importing big name speakers and having rallies, or whatever other mega-fix you can think of won't fix it.

I guess that's not really on topic, but that's my story. I've worked in Memphis and been in the minority ethnicity at work. Guess what mattered? Profits. Not race. Money only. Which caused our workspace to be more racially harmonious than many places in Memphis (and maybe than any of us would have been had we met in the park) because we all equally hated the top dog managers for pursuing profit so openly and to the detriment (we thought) of the rest of us.

How much better would we move forward if our unifying factor was the love of Jesus? As much as (hate's too strong) irritation was a uniter in a bitterly divided town, the Cross should be better--and I will try to be more locked in on that.

JG said...

"If someone cooks a good meal you can at least say thank you."

Well, Todd just threw it down to all us lurkers. So I also want to add my thanks. I haven't commented on this series because I felt unequal to the conversation. But I do appreciate the care and thought you've put into each post.

We spent the last several years living in a city where we were definitely in the ethnic minority. There were lots of experiences related to that, mostly positive, some neutral. I hope it's made me more a more empathetic person when it comes to these discussions.

Solameanie said...

"If we can start there, and stop pretending that you are guilty of something you have never considered and I am guilty of something I have never imagined, then I'll bet the next sentence can be constructive."

That one sentence, Frank, in and of itself, sums up very, very, very much. Exactly, precisely.

Andy Dollahite said...

FWIW, ditto to Dan's original exhortation and Todd's commentary. God uses you to sharpen others and magnify Christ...(and if you can tolerate a lighthearted joke, we postmillers need you in the trenches).

Frank Turk said...

That's why PostMil associates are usually throwing me in the trenches, I imagine.