29 June 2018

Speaking of things not understood:


Read this:


And then this:

 

"What Mr. Johnson Apparently Doesn’t Understand"

Now,

  1. I did not call Thabiti Anyabwile "a racist schlub." I explicitly made that clear in a tweet before he even posted his article.
  1. Yes, I knew he made public comments disagreeing with or criticizing Obama. That, however, is no answer to any point I made. What he did not do was upbraid black evangelicals as a group for the sins of the Obama administration. Nor would he. Nor should he.
  2. I get that "white evangelicals" aren’t an entire race. Same with "black evangelicals." They are, however, subgroups within the body of Christ classed by their ethnicity—in this case, in order to criticize, blame, and castigate one group and set them against the other. I stand by the assertion that this is a racist tactic.

Phil's signature


PS: Everyone who followed my Twitter feed or Facebook page during the election knows I never supported Mr. Trump for the presidency. For the first time in my life I didn't vote the top of the ticket in a presidential election. In fact, my public criticism of candidate Trump was so firm and so high-volume that my pastor scolded me for being too focused on the issue and too aggressive in expressing my opinion on a political matter. So there's no way I'm going to make a phony confession of guilt just because some woker-than-thou church leader lumps me in with the ethnic group he wants to blame for Mr. Trump's character or policies.

I'm guessing my black evangelical friends who never supported Obama feel exactly the same way.

25 June 2018

Affirmative Action . . . or Unbiblical Partiality?

by Hohn Cho




argaret Thatcher famously said that the problem with socialism is that you always run out of other people's money. Well, the problem with affirmative action is that you always run out of impartial ways to implement it. As a case in point, let's take a look at Harvard's current affirmative action policies.

The Harvard Fiasco
A group of Asian plaintiffs is suing Harvard, which has been adamantly resisting discovery of its highly secretive admissions process. Fortunately, that stonewalling largely failed, and hundreds of pages of motions, memos, and expert reports and rebuttals (the most important of which are available here and here, and are the source for the data and quotes below) were released ten days ago.

Having gone through much of it, the most compelling points are those raised by the plaintiffs. They have reasonably demonstrated that over a six-year period, as a group average, Asian applicants had the highest academic ratings (including GPA, test scores, AP exams taken, AP exam scores), highest extra-curricular ratings, highest alumni interview overall scores, and either highest or second-highest scores on letters of reference from counselors and teachers.

But then there's the "personal" rating, which is described nebulously as "[w]hether that student would contribute to the class, classroom, roommate group, to the class as a whole, their human qualities . . . It is a little hard to talk about in general but sort of add it all up and get a feeling" and as including "perhaps likability, also character traits, such as integrity, helpfulness, courage, kindness." This personal rating is determined only by Harvard admissions staff, who in the vast majority of cases have never even met the applicant.

And in this highly subjective area, Asian applicants are being absolutely crushed.

A significant number of Asian applicants receive the strongest scores on their personal ratings in only the very top 10% category of Asian applicants. In contrast, a significant number of applicants receive the strongest scores on their personal ratings for approximately the top 60% of white applicants, the top 70% for Hispanic applicants, and the top 80% for African American applicants.

This is an astonishingly major difference, statistically speaking. To put it in plainer English, either the bulk of the Asian cohort year-after-year was made up of misanthropic miscreants in comparison to their fellow white, Hispanic, and African American applicants, or the Harvard admissions staff—who again, had never even met the applicants in the vast majority of cases—had their fists on the scale when it came to the highly subjective personal ratings.



Regardless, especially after being amplified by Harvard's favoring of people who have strong scores across multiple areas, the subjective refusal by admissions staff to rate Asian students more highly across the entire personal rating category has had the practical procedural impact of significantly decreasing Asian admission rates, while significantly increasing the admission rates of every other group. The disparity is so vast that "[a]n Asian-American applicant with a 25% chance of admission, for example, would have a 35% chance if he were white, 75% if he were Hispanic, and 95% chance if he were African-American." This use of a subjective determiner to effectively put a cap on a group deemed to be undesirably overrepresented is eerily reminiscent of the Jewish quota earlier in the 20th century, and is a classic example of an abuse of administrative discretion for an improper purpose.

In my opinion, the media has generally covered this story quite poorly, with lots of cursory analysis and ideological pieces, but this piece from The Economist is excellent. And here's a powerful opinion piece from one of my favorite secular writers, Wesley Yang, which may help explain some of the emotional resonance of this issue.

Regardless, even if one takes the position, as the Supreme Court has, that fostering "diversity" in education is a positive goal, the process of how one gets there is of critical importance, and under current law, "race" cannot be the predominant factor in the analysis, nor can one rely on plainly unfair procedural measures to accomplish one's goals. And although Harvard is obviously denying wrongdoing at this stage, I believe the entire subjective determination of the personal rating stinks to high heaven.

Why Christians Should Care
At this point, some of you may be wondering what all of this is doing on a Christian blog. Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, there's a discussion happening right now in greater evangelicalism on the topic of "social justice." I actually don't care for that term, which I simply don't see in Scripture despite the best efforts of some to read it into (primarily) the Old Testament. I greatly prefer the term "biblical justice," which goes beyond the issues most favored by social justice proponents, to encompass a much larger scope of issues, particularly Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, the latter of which was written to Christians being persecuted by the mad Roman emperor Nero and nevertheless called them to submit to every human authority and governor.

But let's just roll with the term social justice for the moment. Most often when I see proponents of that term using it in the church, they are typically engaging in at least two threshold logical errors. The first error happens when the calling of the corporate church to make disciples is conflated with the calling of individual Christians to do good works (e.g., acts of charity, doing justice, loving one's neighbors and even one's enemies, etc.). In other words, there's a distinction between corporate and individual ethics in the Christian life.

The second error happens when the latter calling of individual Christians to do good works in their own stewardship and Christian liberty is mistaken for a command to agitate for social change, usually in connection with some vague or even unspoken public policy favored by the social justice advocate. But the fact there is no such command to agitate for social change in the Bible—and to the contrary, many verses actually seem to cut against that very concept (see, e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Proverbs 24:21, Titus 3:1-2)—is often conveniently lost or ignored.

Each of these errors could be the topic of its own blog post or even series . . . but there's a third logical error I'd like to discuss right now, which is the sometimes incorrect assumption that the public policy supported by the social justice proponent is even good, positive, or most importantly to Christians, biblical to begin with. Support of "diversity" and affirmative action has almost become a shibboleth of polite American society, and certainly among most coastal elites. But what would the Scriptures say about a policy like Harvard's?

The Scriptures on Partiality
In the Old Testament, there are numerous references to avoiding partiality in judging. Even if one takes the view—as I do—that we are no longer under the Old Testament civil law, seeing God's heart for some of the underlying principles can still be very helpful, especially when the civil law concepts are repeated elsewhere in Scripture, as is the case with the concept of partiality.

For this reason, verses such as Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15 are illuminating, because they show that partiality is still forbidden even if that partiality were to be exercised in favor of the poor. Fair and impartial judgment is still required! Similarly, Deuteronomy 1:17 calls for impartial judgment for the small and great alike, and there is a specific call not to fear man in rendering such a judgment . . . even if, say, one might be at risk of condemnation by certain well-placed academics and intellectuals of our day.

Moving to the wisdom literature of the Proverbs, we see that impartiality is a wise principle for all people to live out, not merely the judges and civil authorities . . . or, in the case of Harvard, an institution that takes a huge amount of federal money and sits in judgment over many applicants. Proverbs 24:23 is crystal clear in this regard, stating flatly that it is not good to show partiality in one's judgment.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is Proverbs 20:10 (see also Proverbs 11:1, 16:11, 20:23), where God considers differing weights and measures to be an abomination. Numerous commentators have applied this concept beyond the world of merchants to encompass general corruption and other double standards, and Albert Barnes writes in his commentary that this verse has "a wider application to all judging one man by rules which we do not apply to ourselves or to another." In light of the Harvard lawsuit, it's hard to think of a more apt description for similarly-situated applicants differing so dramatically in their results, with the only major distinction being their ethnicity.

When we move to the New Testament, God is plainly declared to be impartial specifically in the area of nationalities (ethnei, from which we obtain our word ethnicity) in Acts 10:34-35. And the showing of partiality is clearly called sin in James 2:9.

The Bottom Line
Of course, none of this prohibits individual acts of mercy and charity, but whenever we move to the level of the "systemic," as many social justice advocates love to do, we increasingly run into the dangers of showing partiality on a broader scale. In that vein, one of the most ironic things about Harvard's affirmative action policies in admissions is that, while ostensibly designed to help account for past discrimination and arguably even present claims of discrimination against ethnic minorities, the policies themselves are acting as instruments of discrimination and partiality!

Indeed, despite the fact that Asians themselves are an ethnic minority which has suffered from discrimination in this country, these Asian applicants have not only failed to benefit from Harvard's practices, but they rather appear to have been penalized for their ethnicity. This is all the more curious given that Asians are not typically blamed for systematic oppression of and discrimination against other ethnic minorities in America.

To tease out that concept a bit more, it's both interesting and telling that many of the Asian, Hispanic, and African American applicants to Harvard are actually first or second generation immigrants who could not credibly claim to have any nexus whatsoever to the worst examples of systemic discrimination in American history. So even if one accepts for the sake of argument some kind of biblical restitution model to support affirmative action, I would argue that certainly as it pertains to all immigrants specifically and all Asians generally, the wrong people are being benefited and penalized. (Of course, biblical restitution would typically require some kind of concrete underlying crime or sin with quantifiable and finite recompense, as opposed to the often vague and implied systemic behavior examined by complex multivariate analyses—of which "race" is only one variable—with seemingly infinite remedies demanded.)

To be clear, I am not some Asian nationalist who's looking to advance his ethnic group's interests out of some misguided sense of tribal pride. Indeed, my preference and desire would be for as much of this race-centric nonsense as possible to "go the way of all the earth" and into the dustbin of history, because this is what I believe the Scriptures and biblical justice would support.

But when a story involving a specific institution's own race-centric policies establishes them to be as outrageously unfair as Harvard's, well, let's just say that I would appreciate the elegant poetic justice if these policies were to go to the Supreme Court and contribute to their own undoing, nationwide. Would that we could someday reach a point where even the conventional worldly wisdom stands decisively against such blatant offenses to biblical justice as the Harvard Asian admissions fiasco. Until then, I would be pleased if at least we in the church could understand and appreciate the Scriptural importance of impartiality.



Hohn Cho

Hohn is a lay elder at Grace Community Church and an attorney by vocation. Yes, Hohn Cho is his real name, not a pseudonym. And yes, he lives up to it.

18 June 2018

Microaggressions... or Speck-Plucking?

by Hohn Cho



In my pre-Christian life, I was a political leftist who considered identity politics to be the pathway to a more enlightened future. I was deeply invested in what I like to call a "race-centric" view of the world, so much so that I would bristle and correct anyone who dared to use the word Oriental in my presence—with a toxic blend of self-righteousness, condescension, and pique that is sadly so common in much of today's political discourse.

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in "wokeness", I far more. As a student, I marched and protested and helped occupy buildings for the cause of affirmative action in faculty hiring, and my course of study was all about ethnicity in America. I was steeped in concepts of critical race theory at one of the most liberal campuses in the nation, and considered myself to be a full-blown socialist (not the weak-tea Bernie Sanders types that we see these days).

Fast forward to today, and thanks to God's free gift of salvation, followed by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit working through the perfect Word, I can honestly say that verses such as Galatians 3:27-28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:9, 2 Corinthians 5:16, and John 3:30, among others, have thoroughly demolished my race-centric worldview. And so it is that I marvel when I see significant portions of the conservative evangelical church appearing to move more and more toward a race-centric worldview, while the Gospel is seemingly emphasized less and less.

Now, I will readily admit that even the most race-centric evangelicals would likely dispute that characterization quite vigorously, but the reality is that when race seems to be all that a person talks about, other topics—including the Gospel—start to recede into the background. This is the very point that Phil made to Thabiti Anyabwile in his article, "Against Mission Drift."

As it has been in the world, this discussion is fraught with challenges in the church. Some people object to using the term "race" while others might prefer or actually insist on it. There are explicit or implicit questions about who is allowed to speak on the topic, or at least speak with any degree of perceived credibility. Actual data and even Scripture are sometimes minimized or ignored in favor of emotions and experiences. Positions are staked out, often at increasing distances from one another, the temperature rises, cognitive biases hinder understanding, unfair generalizations abound, and soon you realize that you're in the middle of a giant mess and you've lost sight of the exit.

And very often, you see people bemoaning others' tone and diction. Offense is taken, accusations fly, people become defensive, and the odds of having a meaningful discussion plummet. This is a real shame, because in order to make any progress on an issue as intense and emotionally charged as race, the order of the day must be level-headed civil discourse—and in the church, always keeping central what the Word of God says.

As with any passionate endeavor, however, if one decides to engage, there must also be a willingness to have a thick skin and "overlook a transgression" as we know from Proverbs 19:11 and 1 Peter 4:8

Which brings me to the subject of my post. The often hair-trigger reactions to others' tone and diction are unsurprising in a world where "microaggressions" are actually a thing.

Merriam-Webster defines a microaggression as "a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)." I can understand why the world would buy into this concept, as it pushes all of the worldly buttons: the elevation of self, the smug moral righteousness that can come along with self-positioning as a victim, the clinging onto offense and unforgiveness, the rhetorical escalation of small slights into matters of first importance, and ultimately, the great sin of pride.

In the church, however, this really ought not be, as we have the perfect Word to guide us. In that sense, even the very nature of the secular word "microaggression" is telling, because micro admits that the behavior being complained about is tiny, while aggression is self-refuting, as it typically requires overt hostility or violence, and not acting merely "subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally".

Instead, I would argue that a more biblical term for calling out small slights of this nature would actually be speck-plucking from Matthew 7:3, representing a microscopic focus on others' shortcomings while ignoring one's own. When we apply the concept of speck-plucking to race, seemingly the most common source of "microaggressions" today, the concern comes into stark focus, especially in light of the worst race-centric pundits' own propensity to make sweeping race-based generalizations (see, e.g., "white evangelicalism", "white fragility", "white guilt", "white privilege", etc.). They really ought to remove the planks from their own eyes, before critiquing others' subtle, unconscious, or unintentional comments or actions!

This dynamic of racial speck-plucking is all the more puzzling when one understands that gauging whether or not someone else "subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude" involves a significant likelihood of false positives, so much so that the first question should never be, "Are you offended?" but rather, "Did the other person intend to offend you?"

Among Christians, hopefully the answer in the vast majority of cases will be, "Of course not!" If the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35), then we should exercise love toward one another, which according to 1 Corinthians 13:7 "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." And ultimately, 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that we are not to pass judgment upon another person's heart motives toward us; it is instead the Lord who will reveal and judge.

But the practice of fixating on speck-plucking carries with it another grave spiritual danger, and that is the sin of unforgiveness. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Slave in Matthew 18:21-35, after a slave's plea for mercy, the Master forgives his debt of 10,000 talents, which is billions of dollars in today's currency. This slave then proceeds to physically abuse another slave for not repaying a debt of 100 denarii, or 100 days of wages for a laborer. The debtor slave makes a nigh-identical plea for mercy, which is heartlessly rejected, and the debtor slave is thrown in prison. Upon hearing of this, the Master then hands the unforgiving slave over to the torturers.

The entire passage is a beautiful but sobering picture of a Christian's response to salvation, as well as the reality that we who know that we have been saved from an unpayable debt and an eternity in Hell are to be kind and patient and forgiving even when wronged by others. I think many Christians understand this parable reasonably well as an abstract concept, but moving into the details, it's noteworthy that the example chosen as a debt to forgive, 100 denarii, is actually several thousand dollars by today's currency. This is not an insignificant sum!

In light of this, I would be deeply concerned for any Christian who would seize upon a perceived "microaggression" and elevate it to the level of a confrontation, an issue between brothers. The way that we handle personal offense, suffering wrong, and being sinned against can be a powerful reflection of our own spiritual maturity. And to the extent a person escalates speck-plucking to the level of offenses or censorious accusations, were I shepherding that person, I would gently attempt to demonstrate from the Scriptures I describe above that responding to a perceived offense is actually an area where the person could grow spiritually.

Bringing it back to the example of the speck, immediately prior to the famous speck-plank reference in Matt. 7:3-5, we see our Savior say in Matt. 7:2, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." So if we're actively engaged in speck-plucking toward others, we will have that returned to us in full measure . . . something that any rational person would want to avoid.

James 2:13 is arguably an even more directly applicable verse along these lines. As a closing comment on a passage about the sin of showing favoritism to people based on their wealth and social class—and analogously, any class, such as race—James exhorts Christians to show mercy to each other, and warns that "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy."

This warning was an especially apt one for early Christians who were overtly favoring the rich over the poor, in keeping with the heavy social stratification of Rome and the Ancient Near East. But I believe it's just as apt for today's environment, where hypersensitivity over race has led to a social media uproar over a high school girl's wearing of a Chinese dress, excoriations of a Jewish journalist for complimenting immigrants, and the mob-demanded firing of two former employees at a Portland bakery who appear to have done nothing objectionable. If there is mercy in any of these judgments, I am unable to see it.



Sadly, even some within the conservative evangelical church appear to be heading down a similar path to the world. The race-centric nature of much of the recent discussion has seen prominent leaders such as Anyabwile saying, "My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice" (which Phil has already commented on). And Matt Chandler calling 300 people who left his church over his view on the topic of race "fools," in a manner that reminds me of the warnings in Matthew 5:22. . . because obviously, he spoke to all 300 people who departed, and none of them had any valid reasons to leave. And Eric Mason declaring that "pushback from a privileged position will get shut down," which could perhaps be summarized as "disagreeing while white". Although these types of statements are not (yet) to the level of the ones in the prior paragraph, the amount of mercy shown to their targets is still depressingly thin, especially in light of James 2:13.

I take no joy in highlighting these public, unambiguous comments, all of which remain to this day without retraction. These men are conference speakers, authors, and most of all pastors accountable to James 3:1 who have significant influence in the conservative evangelical church, and their comments do not represent "microaggressions" nor are they merely specks to be plucked. They have not personally offended me; rather, I am deeply grieved to see even some men who preach a faithful Gospel seemingly following a path cut more by the world than by Scripture.

The current controversy over race-centric worldviews in the church is one that will require civil but robust discussion in order to attempt to make progress. May we do so with charity, yes, but also with stamina and perseverance, and without sweeping generalizations or hypersensitive speck-plucking.

Hohn Cho