17 September 2018

A Righteous Hatred of Ethnic Partiality

by Hohn Cho

I   was corresponding with a friend, and he suggested that it could be helpful if more people on the "priority of Gospel clarity and proclamation" side of the current "social justice" discussion were to declare clearly that they were opposed to ethnic partiality and hatred. I appreciated my friend's suggestion, although I also feel compelled to note that such declarations are clear and present and common, whether in many of the articles in John's concluded blog series on GTY, or his developing sermon series on this topic, or the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel itself, which clearly affirms "that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people" and denies "that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity" and also denies "that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities."

Even so, I appreciated the suggestion because as we know from 2 Peter 1:12, reminders of basic truths can be helpful. On that note, I greatly appreciated this recent series (starting here) on The Cripplegate by Jesse Johnson, regarding the sinfulness of American slavery. Moreover, in an intense discussion where a charitable willingness to believe and hope all things per 1 Cor. 13:7 can often be in short supply, I think it is also helpful to reiterate points like these so that it's easier for all of us to remember that we have certain genuine convictions in common. This, in turn, may lead to a discussion environment that is hopefully different from the intense partisanship of the world, where everyone who makes the complex ethical calculation associated with voting and comes down a certain way is dismissed, or even derided and condemned, as a racist, a naïve vote wastrel, or an enabler of murderers.

Indeed, just as the "social justice" advocates don't seem to appreciate being labeled as cultural or even actual Marxists—something which I take great care not to do, by the way, although I think it is fair game to point out that some of the language and rhetoric and even goals can at times sound similar—I take exception to relatively regular claims that people like me are only winking at ethnic partiality and hatred, or merely citing our opposition to those things as a talisman to ward off criticism, or don't really hold earnest biblical convictions but instead are trying to "curry favor with whites" or similar nonsense.

The simple truth is that ethnic hatred and partiality—or to use a common term that I no longer prefer, racism—is sin. We see this clearly in verses such as Galatians 3:27-28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:9, 2 Corinthians 5:16, James 2:9, and Acts 10:34-35, among others. And when we see something called out clearly as sin in the Bible, it is appropriate and righteous to hate that sin. I will go a step further and say that from my point of view, ethnic hatred and partiality is sin so major, sin that is so disruptive to the unity of the Body of Christ, that clearly established and unrepentant sin of this nature would be appropriate in many cases for steps three and four of church discipline. Certainly God took this sin very seriously when he struck Miriam with leprosy for objecting to Moses' marriage to a Cushite woman in Numbers 12:1-10!

On that note, even today, we often see this sin manifest in objections to marriage or engagement to, or even dating of, a person of a different ethnicity. Having spent over 13 years in ministry primarily among and to single adults, I've seen this phenomenon quite a bit more than I'd like, and I'd sadly wager that the occurrence of it is perhaps more common in the conservative evangelical church than the world, owing in part to any conservative institution's natural suspicion of, and slowness to, change. Even more sadly, I've tended to witness objections to interethnic marriage arising out of Asian communities more often than any other, particularly among East Asian parents and grandparents (although a bit less often in second—and later—generation Japanese Americans, perhaps).

With that said, we have seen very positive movement over the decades, and approval of "interracial" marriages in the US has increased from 4% in 1958 to 87% in 2013, representing "one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history." Hopefully this approval trend continues, and although the pervasive reality of sin means this number will never go to 100%, if the Lord tarries, it's entirely possible the current obsession over issues of ethnicity may fade significantly as generations pass. After all, it ought to be quite a bit more difficult to sustain bigoted views of other ethnic groups when you yourself, and most of the people around you, might well have ancestors within that very ethnicity!

For those whose lingering prejudices or presuppositions cause them to lag behind both the US approval rate and the Bible, however, I've often found that asking heart questions on this topic can be far more revealing and convicting than any efforts to root out secret heart sin by either accusing entire groups of people or pressing disputed factual claims about implicit bias or socioeconomic factors. If you're single, how would you feel about marrying a person from a different or vastly different ethnicity? If you're married, how would you feel about your kids, or any younger single person you care for, marrying a person with differing types and amounts of melanin in their skin? Few questions are as viscerally helpful, I believe, in exposing people's hearts toward those of other ethnicities. And if even the thought causes revulsion to rise up within someone, that person might have to face the possibility that his or her response is something more dangerous and sinister than an innocent preference.

All of the people I know personally who have been engaging in the "social justice" discussion earnestly and utterly deplore and reject the sin of ethnic partiality and hatred. And yet my perception is that many people on the "social justice" side of the discussion tend to question or doubt that fact, simply because some of us might:

  • hold differing convictions regarding the role of the corporate church versus the role of individual Christians; or
  • prioritize the murder of the unborn—many of whom are ethnic minorities—over socioeconomic progress in an already wealthy nation like the US; or
  • cherish our Christian liberty and freedom of conscience to the extent that we refuse to have our consciences legalistically bound by what others think we need to be doing with our own time, money, and resources; or
  • insist that the sin of partiality is not unique to dominant or majority groups, as I attempted to show in my article criticizing modern affirmative action as unbiblical partiality; or
  • object to broad-brushed efforts to either speak for or indict entire groups of people; or
  • reject attempted heart—and mind—and motive—reading by many "social justice" advocates which we believe is in violation of 1 Corinthians 4:5 as well as chapter 13 on love; or
  • question or even dispute the implicit assumptions and assertions that are accepted as closed matters of fact by many "social justice" advocates despite the existence of studies, data, and evidence that often support contrary views; or
  • perhaps most importantly, urgently warn against the Gospel confusion and distraction that might arise whenever "social justice" advocates attempt to raise their issues to the level of a "Gospel issue" (and see this excellent article by Kevin DeYoung on this very topic, although to be candid, I think he was being polite to the "social justice" side of the discussion by saying "it depends" . . . note that he rejects all attempts to make social justice into a Gospel issue except perhaps for one very narrow slice that constitutes a small minority of "social justice" rhetoric).

My hope is that as we all process through the various aspects of this discussion, we do so in a way that honors the Lord and upholds biblical speech and conduct, even as we strive to believe the best of our brothers and sisters, and appreciate that although each of us may have earnest and genuine convictions, in the vast majority of cases, they don't suddenly turn our siblings into enemies.

Hohn's signature


Sharon said...

Just an appeal from one of your faithful "seasoned citizen" readers. There seems to be plenty of white space on either side of your post. Could you please make the print a bit larger so it is more easily read by those of the elderly persuasion? Much appreciated.

Unknown said...

"white space"? I feel triggered.

Hohn C said...

Sharon, I'm not positive since I don't handle the formatting, but I'm pretty sure this is the standard font size for Blogger-type articles. But you might be able to increase the font size on your screen by hitting the "CTRL" button at the same time as the "+" button. (And reduce the font size by hitting "CTRL" and the "-" button.) There might also be a menu option on your browser to "Zoom" in and out. Thanks so much for being a faithful reader!!!

Unknown, hahaha, you are being such a snowflake. :-)

Also from Twitter (which I browse, but have no interest in participating in at this time), here's a comment from Elizabeth: "The marriage issue is interesting. I don't think every angle of that is bias. A person is allowed to want to marry one they find attractive." I actually don't disagree with any of that. And I'm not saying every preference is sinful partiality or bias.

But the word I used was "revulsion" and the way I termed it was as a question for people to honestly ask themselves, not as an accusation. Even so, one can drill down into it a bit more, if desired, by asking more questions. Such as, OK, even if one is not filled with revulsion or overtly repulsed by the notion, there are billions and billions of people outside of anyone's own ethnic group... is one's preference SO strong that one could not even conceive of being drawn or attracted to a person of another ethnicity? If so, again, it might helpful to do an interrogation of one's own heart. I can't tell you exactly where the line is between innocent preference and sinful partiality, because I don't believe we have clear and explicit guidance from Scripture on that question. But that line does exist somewhere, and each person will be convicted, or not, as the Spirit leads.

She also wrote, "DeYoung's article is not terrible. I disagree with his one addition. Even that is not a gospel issue." On a technical basis, I actually agree with DeYoung when he says, "If "gospel issue" means "a necessary concern of those who have been saved by the gospel" or "one aspect of what it means to keep in step with the gospel" or "realities without which you may not be truly believing the gospel," then social justice is certainly a gospel issue."

The problem I have with DeYoung's polite concession is that what he's really talking about is general obedience and loving one's neighbor, and in that context, "social justice" is no different than any other obedience issue such as avoiding gossip, sexual immorality, anger, etc. etc. In that light, I would still maintain that "Gospel issue" is unnecessarily confusing, as Phil's article that I linked pointed out. And so I think it's unhelpful language even if technically true.

And I reiterate, the number of "social justice" advocates who carefully use the term only in that context is very small, from my perspective. Thanks for reading!

Unknown said...

One of the huge impediments to clear thinking and talking around these issues is the language employed and whether or not we are thinking and speaking in biblical categories. Hohn, you are wise to eschew the language of “racism” in favor of ethnic partiality, for it more clearly lays plain our sin. Racism is such a fraught and varied-definitional term as to be unhelpful. One can even dive a bit deeper to say that ethnic partiality is nothing more complicated than a violation of the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we speak in these biblical terms, we can more clearly understand the core of the human rebellion against God in showing partiality. And we can also lay bare the equal wickedness of partiality toward or against any ethnic group, irrespective of supposed or real power dynamics. Sin is sin, no matter my position in society. The person occupying the lowest rung of the societal ladder is equally capable of harboring and nurturing hate for his fellow man in his heart as are the most powerful. One of the biggest downfalls of the SJ movement in the church is its inability or unwillingness to think and speak in these biblical categories as opposed to the world’s definitions that revolve around the grappling for power. It’s what leads well-meaning Christian SJ advocates to fall into the trap of making hatred for people of Caucasian ethnicity acceptable, yes, even fashionable and virtuous.

Hohn C said...

Unknown, I agree, and the use of biblical language is helpful in keeping all of us grounded in the Scriptures (as opposed to the "unhelpful language" I mentioned in my response above about even the limited use of "Gospel issue" by DeYoung).

Pseudonymous Twitter user Pater De Felibus wrote, "Extending the sin partiality to dating and marriage is dangerous territory. In fact, I'd say the point of dating and marriage is to be partial. Categories are important here. Everyone is equal as Christian brothers/sisters. But not everyone is an equal choice as a mate." First, see my response to Elizabeth, above.

But second, asking yourself a heart question is "dangerous" only to your own potential sins, biases, and presuppositions. And respectfully, you seem to follow and retweet quite a few actual white supremacist Twitter accounts... so if you profess the faith, you might be exactly the type of person who ought to be doing some self-examination -- and repentance -- everywhere necessary.

Regardless, unlike many "social justice" advocates, I don't like to keep silent about extremists and outliers, even if they're ostensibly supporting a couple of the things I also support. Because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, and I'm not looking for "allies" to enact sociopolitical change. Indeed, this reiterates the point many of us are trying to make, which is that the Gospel and the condition of our hearts are what truly matter.

Jim Pemberton said...

Well-written, Hohn. It's interesting how polarizing discussions tend to be so because categorical errors are weaponized to push a position in the middle toward the other extreme. In this case, although ethnic partiality has been repeatedly and explicitly rejected by those who oppose the idea that "social justice" is a Gospel issue, and may even be detrimental to the Gospel. The reason is that they can't reconcile those categories so they don't hear that we recognize that something like racial hatred can be important to oppose, and yet not be a Gospel issue worthy of assigning priority above Gospel issues. So although we say it, they don't hear it or believe we are honest. Therefore, they push us in their understanding into an extreme position that doesn't accurately represent our convictions. In this way a category error becomes a straw man.

I do have to note: I'm not crazy about the term "racism" either. We often use "race" and "ethnicity" interchangeably. Interestingly, the US government in the census draws a distinction between the terms. If I understand correctly. "race" is more genetically defined and "ethnicity" is more culturally defined. Hispanics, for example, are an ethnicity but not a clearly defined race. Thinking of it in these terms, some of the tension in the discussion is in the difference between these two terms. We say "racism" and refer to the color of someone's skin, yet the factors that contribute to our exceptions are with regard to ethnicity. For example, I know of IFB groups a generation ago who would reject African-Americans and accept Africans. Another example: It's also pretty common to see African-Americans who reject other African-Americans who disagree with them ideologically by calling them "Uncle Tom" as though the ideology was inherent to the ethnic or sub-cultural genre of African-American life. So the categories of race and ethnicity, if understood to apply to those terms, are also being both confused and effectively employed in whatever way justifies whatever hatred people want to harbor. So I thought it was interesting that your replacement for "racism" was "ethnic partiality." I do think it's a helpful to the distinction if we understand the difference, and I recognize that you may have more to add to the different between the terms.

Bobby Grow said...

As I've been reflecting on the consternation your guys' Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel has been causing, I think it really comes down to lack of clarity. The drafters of SSJG were not clear about their targets. They seemed to have lumped what's going on in TGC et al with something like what's going on with places like Union Theological Seminary et al (progressive/liberal genuinely cultural-marxists). Who are you all targeting? I can see how the fear is that TGC has imbibed some of the conceptuality of UTS and like places, but have they? That's what needs to be made more clear. Less equivocation about targets of the critique and the Statement, and more pin-pointedness. I think that would go a long way in disarming some of the issues revolving around so called ethnic partiality.

Hohn C said...

Jim, thanks for your insightful comment. The point you raise about the differences between ethnic groups that have been here for generations vs. first- and second- generation immigrants is a fascinating one, and a key point vis-a-vis attempts by some "social justice" advocates to push for generational sin, affirmative action, reparations, etc. The reality is that SO many Americans today have zero nexus to slavery (or to the extent there might be a nexus, it could actually be one on the enslaving side... see this fascinating article as an example).


And as the years pass, an increasing number of Americans also have zero nexus even to Jim Crow. This raises fair questions about whether it's even appropriate to attempt to extract "payment" in one form or another (e.g., Asians and affirmative action, as I said in my Pyro article on the topic) from people who had no nexus to the wrong, in order to benefit a number of people such as the increasing number of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa who ALSO had no nexus to the wrong. I argue it is not.


Bobby, I wasn't one of the initial drafters, but my impression has always been that the goal was to lay down some basic fundamentals that needn't even have been controversial. Certainly both Thabiti Anyabwile and even someone more extreme than him on this topic such as Kyle Howard basically said they agreed with the statement or at least 95% of it (for Howard). My initial -- naive, I now admit -- hope had been that we could see lots of people on both sides of the discussion sign it. But as with many things associated with this topic, polarization and partisanship and distrust of motives have made the statement palatable largely only to one "camp", apparently.

I think the goal would be not only to stand clearly against some of the folks like UTS, but also to warn against the type of drift that some of us are perceiving from even some of the folks who get the Gospel right. I've got major concerns about a number of folks, and even if those folks don't apostasize themselves, I see the issue are more being about the people who are in their orbit; more extreme followers; the people they're training and discipling; the next generation of leaders and preachers and teachers; and the congregations who sometimes take things far beyond even the leaders.

Take a look at this article from the upcoming October issue of First Things as an example of what I'm talking about. I am NOT saying this example proves impending apostasy by even some of the more strident "social justice" advocates, but it does serve as yet another warning, and it's one we've seen in many denominations that started to go down the social Gospel pathway.


Thanks for reading and for your comments, I've really appreciated our recent interactions!

Bobby Grow said...


I can definitely see drift happening in almost all sectors of evangelicalism. I actually think the drift is more radical than is even imagined. I have had close contact with many progressives/liberals in the theological field/guild over the years; because of my own purported theological dispositions. The slide is happening exponentially, and quicker than I could have imagined. I do agree (if this is what you're intimating)that folks involved with TGC, and other like groups, are actually in way over their heads. They seem to live insularly in a bubble that is pretty naive to how sinister and anti-Christ so called iterations of social justice are. I recognize that they are trying (the TGC folks) to distinguish themselves from ideology like UTS et al endorse. But if this differentiation between themselves and cultural-marxism ends up as equivocal, which at best it will, then what's the point of using the language at all? If TGC is concerned about meeting the needs of the outcast, the marginalized, the broken and downcast--which they should be!--the Gospel itself comes with its own revealed categories and emphases for that (and power!); it actually doesn't need to tie on, linguistically, to the language of social justice in order to appear to be serious about doing the ministry of Christ in the world. Of course, on the flip side, I've seen folks on the "MacArthur" side going to other extremes to discount what they perceive TGC et al to be doing. So there must be a responsible way to work through this without swinging to the various extremes on the binary "sides." My impression, or the impression that I think is given by many evangelical groups, TGC flagship among them, is that there is a siphoning of responsibility off to para-movements when it comes to meeting real life social needs in the world. The Great Commission is certainly still the mandate Jesus gave to his church, as such he has supplied the power and energy to make these in-roads in the world, to bear witness to him, without having to even equivocally tie ourselves into grammars and movements that are indeed anti-Christ when exposed by the light of Christ.

Unknown said...

TGC has been nuts for years.