27 August 2018

Where Insistence on Representation Ultimately Leads

by Hohn Cho

Fred Butler and Shaun Marksbury have written responses to a piece where Terrence Jones accuses my pastor, John MacArthur (who is, among many other things, President of The Master's Seminary*), of the sin of partiality due to the nature of the curriculum independently chosen by TMS professors in their own academic freedom. Apparently, there are not enough books by and about Christians of a certain subgroup to suit Mr. Jones' preferences.

Putting aside for a moment the reality of where the Reformation geographically originated and then primarily took place, and the testimony that numerous early church fathers from North Africa apparently were and still are indeed taught at TMS, Mr. Jones' article illustrates the growing problem in both the world and increasingly even in the church of elevating equality of outcome over equality of opportunity. Reading his piece reminded me strongly of a controversy that arose a couple of months ago in the UK, when publisher Penguin Random House, apparently the largest general-interest paperback company in the world, virtuously declared that by 2025, their authors would reflect UK society. Author Lionel Shriver acerbically critiqued this policy. I think her whole piece is worth reading. (And by the way, did you happen to make the mistake of assuming her gender?) But this part is especially apropos:

I'd been suffering under the misguided illusion that the purpose of mainstream publishers like Penguin Random House was to sell and promote fine writing. A colleague's forwarded email has set me straight. Sent to a literary agent, presumably this letter was also fired off to the agents of the entire Penguin Random House stable. The email cites the publisher's 'new company-wide goal': for 'both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025.' (Gotta love that shouty boldface.) 'This means we want our authors and new colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.' The email proudly proclaims that the company has removed 'the need for a university degree from nearly all our jobs'—which, if my manuscript were being copy-edited and proof-read by folks whose university-educated predecessors already exhibited horrifyingly weak grammar and punctuation, I would find alarming.

The accompanying questionnaire for PRH authors is by turns fascinating, comical and depressing. Gender and ethnicity questions provide the coy 'prefer not to say' option, ensuring that being female or Japanese can remain your deep dark secret. As the old chocolate-or-vanilla sexes have multiplied into Baskin Robbins, responders to 'How would you define your gender?' may tick, 'Prefer to use my own term'. In the pull-down menu under 'How would you define your sexual orientation?', 'Bi' and 'Bisexual' are listed as two completely different answers (what do these publishing worthies imagine 'bi' means?). Not subsumed by that mere 'gender' enquiry, out of only ten questions, 'Do you identify as trans?' merits a whole separate query—for 0.1 per cent of the population. (Thus with a staff of about 2,000, PRH will need to hire exactly two). You can self-classify as disabled, and three sequential questions obviously hope to elicit that you've been as badly educated as humanly possible.

And check out the ethnicity pull-down. 'Asian or Asian British' may specify 'Indian,' 'Bangladeshi, 'Chinese', or 'Pakistan'; the correct adjectival form of the latter nationality seems to be mysteriously unprintable. 'Black or Black British' may identify as 'Caribbean' or 'African'. 'Mixed' allows for the options 'White and Black African', 'White and Black Caribbean', and 'White and Asian', but any other combo is merely 'Mixed: Other'. As for us crackers, there's 'White: British', 'White: Irish', and 'White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller', but the rest can only tick 'White: Other'.

Let's unpack that pull-down. If your office is chocka with Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Germans, Danes, Finns, Bosnians, Hungarians, Czechs, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, Argentines, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Romanians who aren't travellers and South African Jews—I could go on—together speaking dozens of languages and bringing to their workplace a richly various historical and cultural legacy, the entire workforce could be categorised as 'White: Other'. Your office is not diverse.

Predictably, outrage ensued, and I say "predictably" because the entire discourse on this topic tends to elevate emotion and personal experiences far above logic (and within the church, even above biblical revelation). Shriver was excoriated, disinvited to events, and ultimately wrote "a pedantic, leadenly prosaic rendition without any jokes" that rightly spoke out against the type of overt quotas that the Penguin Random House policy seems to favor, and which in the US has been declared illegal—for now—in various contexts by the Supreme Court.

When "social justice" advocates in the church accuse critics of inappropriately engaging in a "slippery slope" argument, their words might be taken more seriously were there not ample examples from real life that show exactly where this trajectory leads. The UK is not too far ahead of the US on issues like these, and the concern I have for my Christian brothers and sisters in the US who support "social justice" is that they either don't see it, or even worse, consider examples like Penguin Random House in the UK as a positive model to emulate, despite clear exhortations in Scripture to "regard no one according to the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 5:16. (Listen here to an excellent sermon by Mike Riccardi from the GCC pulpit on this passage.)

And instead of Christians being one "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" from 1 Peter 2:9, suddenly we're Balkanized into dozens of different subgroups, with each one apparently demanding equal representation, not via equality of opportunity, but rather via equality of outcome. And this type of "affirmative action" is actually a form of unbiblical partiality, as I've previously written. Even as I write this, I marvel at how God ordained all the disciples and apostles to be Jews, and yet the Gospel nevertheless obtained a far wider and deeper hearing among the Gentiles, whom Paul in particular ministered to and cared for and loved, even though he himself was a Hebrew of Hebrews!

Just like Phil, I never went to seminary, but were I ever to do so, I would want to go somewhere that God is glorified, the Word is held high, and sound doctrine is taught and lived out. And my desire would be to read books that advance those same goals, regardless of the ethnicity of either the authors or subjects. From every report I personally hear, The Master's Seminary would be one such institution, and I praise the Lord for that.

Hohn's signature

[*] In the interests of full and clear disclosure, although I'm an elder at Grace Community Church, I have no affiliation with TMS, except for one 45-minute class I taught for the Institute for Church Leadership curriculum on the topic of deacons and deaconesses, and for the dear friends I love who work and have graduated from there.


Unknown said...

Thank-you for your ministry! It was encouraging to read this.

Arthur Sido said...

If the goal is to have more books written by non-white theologians, then it would seem appropriate to seek to raise up non-white theologians who write with sufficient quality to earn a place on the reading list. Instead the quality of the writing takes a backseat to the identity of the writer. I am sure that TMS and other seminaries would eagerly include solid theological works written by black or Asian writers. But works that are focused on being "woke" and conflating progressive secular politics for Gospel truth? Those have no place in institutions of theological training.

trogdor said...

Several years ago I was at a church that was putting on a big event, and I had some issues with one of the speakers. When I brought my concerns about his theology and ministry practices to the elders, I was told that they thought it was really important to have an African-American voice on the panel. OK, I asked, could we not find any African-Americans who are Christians and not blatant heretics?

Of course I was warned about my racism. And people with more melanin who objected were charged with "white idolatry", whose objections were pure jealousy.

Sure, TD Jakes is a modalist prosperity-preaching heretic leading people to hell by the thousands. But he's "fruitful" and most-importantly black. So we need him at the Elephant Room, to make it diverse.

There was so much repugnant about the whole episode, and the overt racism on display was the moldy cherry on that sewage sundae.

So I hope I can be excused for pushing back against this emphasis on diversity for the sake of diversity. Skin color is not a qualification for elder, nor does it bear on the theological soundness and usefulness of a book.

If you think people should, say, read fewer 20th/21st century American baptist dispensational authors, and read more ante-nicene fathers, great. Make the case for the importance of reading from a broad spectrum of ideas, of not getting trapped in a theological bubble, of honoring two thousand years of rich theological history, of reading primary sources. But reduce it to skin color and you deserve no hearing whatsoever.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the insight and pushback to give clarity. I am apart of the broader Reformed traditions and attend a church plant that is apart of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This particular denomination is progressive on issues of immigration and social justice good, bad and ugly some can state. I am seeking balance and to be Biblical to lead my family as a man after God's own heart. Since being revealed the Doctrine's of Grace in reading scripture and learning more over the last 17 years or so as a young Pentecostal minister it has really rocked my world. So pray for me. I am apart of the Reformed Continuist circles. I seek to preach the Cross and Him Crucified. And be a servant leader. I am further reading all the articles and blogs pertaining to this conversation among the brethren.

Hohn C said...

Matt, thank you for YOUR ministry! Miss seeing you around GCC, brother!

Art, totally agree with the "woke" part of your comment, unless it's an overt critique (and on that note, I've heard from a few people now that references to Bob Jones -- who is no fan of MacArthur, by the way -- at TMS were well-qualified with critiques). On the first part of your comment, there are undoubtedly any number of reasons why certain books and authors do and don't make it onto reading lists. I am unwilling to presume (especially in the absence of any evidence whatsoever), however, that racial animus is one of them.

trogdor, always great to see you around these parts! Doctrinal fidelity should of course be the most important part of determining whether or not a particular author or speaker is included at any solid institution or church. And so I join you in your pushback on skin color not being a qualification for elder or theological soundness.

Unknown, I just prayed for you, and thank you for reading and seeking to honor the Lord in leading your family and within your church.

Bobby Grow said...

What do you think about the accreditation problems TMU/TMS is having; do you see this as related to the issues in your post?

Titus said...

IIRC, when I've heard the arguments for being intentional about representation, usually the chief reasons cited are that if we choose not to be intentional, it won't happen because we "drift" toward choosing those that look like us, think like us, etc. Depending on the arguer, they may also appeal to a more intellectual explanation for this, i.e. that it's due to our society being systemically racist, everyone possesses "implicit bias", or both.

The interesting thing about the sociological construct of "implicit bias" is that it is increasingly coming up scientifically short. And let's not even get into the topic of studies on diversity classes and other similar "re-educations" showing that they have counter-productive results.

On the point Shriver made at the end of your quote of her about all those nationalities being classified as the singular ethnicity "White:Other", it goes well with my point on your earlier post about not conflating race and ethnicity, even in American and British contexts. Otherwise, besides the conceptual errors which lead to the unnecessary racialist developments in popular politics and theology, we also get absurdities like Shriver illustrates.

Hohn C said...

Titus, great points all around. The increasing statistical evidence of the apparent worthlessness of the “implicit bias test” (which Starbucks just administered to all of their employees as partial penance for alleged wrongdoing by one manager in one store) is particular telling and interesting.

Bobby, I totally understand why you’re asking that question. Given that I’m not affiliated with TMS, and accreditation is a very specific and fact-intensive inquiry (as opposed to the broader and more general topic and implications of representation which I wrote about in my blog post), I honestly don’t feel it’s my place to say. Speaking only for myself, I really appreciated this sentiment from Don Green:

Sometimes, it’s not right to be silent. It’s a hard day for a lot of good people at The Master’s University and Seminary. The WASC report speaks for itself. My opinions about it are not important nor are they the point of this post. There is a lengthy process to play out. The people with responsibility in various places will carry out their duties with an ultimate accountability to the Lord as they do. I’m content to give them time and let them do that. They do not need my advice. I’m not giving it here. Some with past grievances or theological differences will try to leverage this to their advantage and attempt to discredit John MacArthur or the institution. For a few, perhaps, this report is merely an occasion to voice their pre-existing hostility. So be it. It’s a free country and they have a right to speak just as much as I do. But the wood they add to the fire will burn in time and simply leave behind a little ash. Discerning Christians will see it for what it is. I need not say anything else. Today, I just send a public word to the many friends I have at every level of TMUS, Grace to You, and to the elders and my friends at Grace Community Church. I’m grateful for you. I love you. I support you. I’m proud of your commitment to Christ. My life, my family, and Truth Community Church in Cincinnati are infinitely and eternally better for your input and impact on me; yes, every one of you whom I am most pleased and privileged to call “my friend.” My prayers are with you as you deal with these matters. I am absent in the flesh but with you in spirit. “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10).

Bobby Grow said...

Alright, Hohn I can respect that.

Hohn C said...

Bobby, thanks. I sincerely appreciate that.