Monday, January 29, 2007

Jesus and Affirmative Action

A happy fundamentalist friend, a beloved brother in the Lord, just sent me a copy of Edward Gilbreath's Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. I've only read a couple of chapters, but they're really well written, fluid, and I'd say that they're so far a useful and accurate summation of what it feels like to be an African American in a predominantly white church. He's capturing all the angst, uncertainty, frustration, sense of call, and the like. Two chapters in... I'd heartily recommend it for all who want a friendly, accessible peek into what many (most?) self-described "evangelical" African Americans feel and think inside predominantly white churches.

Well, Gilbreath was putting me in a certain frame of mind when I came across Adrian's reaction to Piper's recent statement on searching for minorities to join his staff.

In summary, Piper's open letter states several benefits of pursuing diversity in the staffing (and I assume membership) of the local church. They are:

  1. It illustrates more clearly the truth that God created people of all races and ethnicities in his on image (Genesis 1:27).
  2. It displays more visibly the truth that Jesus is not a tribal deity but is the Lord of all races, nations, and ethnicities.
  3. It demonstrates more clearly the blood-bought destiny of the church to be “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
  4. It exhibits more compellingly the aim and power of the cross of Christ to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
  5. It expresses more forcefully the work of the Spirit to unite us in Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
These benefits amount to pursuit in the mind of staff and elders at Bethlehem:

Therefore, it seems to us that the admiration we feel for this diversity in the New Testament should carry over into the desires we have for the visible church today. It seems to us that the local church should want these things to be true today at the local level where this diversity and harmony would have the greatest visible and relational impact. For us, this has implied pursuit. If we admire it and desire it, then it seems to us we should pursue it.

I think that's well said. But it was interesting to me that the letter went on to offer an apologetic for this decision, a reaction against what some folks might consider the horrors of affirmative action.

As an African American inside white evangelicalism, a committed evangelical, it's curious to me that a defense is even needed. After all, is not Jesus for affirmative action?

Okay, I know that last question raised a few brows. Let me explain by asking another question. What is the gospel message? It's a message of affirmative action. God the Father positively deciding to pursue a people for himself... and oh by the way, a people from every nation. The Father positively sends out the Son to "seek and save" the lost by giving Himself as a sacrifice for them. The Holy Spirit seals all those who repent and believe, sanctifying them until the Day of the Lord's return. If salvation is all of God... then salvation and the gospel are the largest affirmative action program in the world--with this tremendous difference, none of the applications were anywhere near qualified for the position of sons and daughters of the Father. None were worthy of an office in the Father's mansion. All were utterly unqualified--and actually, not even interested in the position. The Gospel is a more affirmative action on behalf of the oppressed, disenfranchised and misdirected than anything we've ever seen in hiring policy. The church is the ultimate affirmative action agency, and the diversity that's in her is by design.

Even Warfield understood that Jesus was for affirmative action. Well, not really, but this quote demonstrates the decisive, positive, affirmative action of God in the cross:

The marvel which the text (John 3:16) brings before us is just that marvel above all other marvels in this marvelous world of ours: the marvel of God's love for sinners. And this is the measure by which we are invited to measure the greatness of the love of God. It is not that it is so great that it is able to extend over the whole of a big world: it is so great that it is able to prevail over the Holy God's hatred and abhorrence of sin. For herein is love, that God could love the world--the world that lies in the evil one: that God who is all-holy and just and good, could so love this world that He gave His only begotten Son for it,--that He might not judge it, but that it might be saved. (B.B. Warfield, "God's Immeasurable Love," in Biblical and Theological Studies, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia: P&R, 1952), pp. 515-516; cited in C. Samuel Storms, Chosen for Life, pp. 199-200).

If we admire what Jesus is doing in the world through the redemption of the nations, we should aspire and act in ways that reflect that admiration. We should act affirmatively to bring our practice in line with our Savior's practice. And this applies whether you're in a predominantly white, African American, Asian or Latino church. The fact that so few churches strive for an increasing diversity that looks like the diversity we're headed towards (Rev. 5:9-10) may just mean that on this matter our lips praise Him but our hearts are far from Him.

Now, about this point in the post, someone is usually dying to ask, "What if you live in an area with little diversity to speak of?" Honestly, while I think that question is often asked by sincere folks puzzled about what to do, it's also asked often by people looking for a way out of any responsibility in this area. But for the sincere, here are a few things to do even when you're not in an area with great amounts of diversity:

  1. Pray for John Piper and other pastors who are... that their churches would look like Rev. 5:9-10... a blood-bought people united in praise for the One Savior of all the world.
  2. Pray that your area would become more diverse. What's wrong with asking for the nations to be brought close to home?
  3. Pray that you and your people would be ready (free of racial predjudice or indifference, delighted for the gospel opportunity) when and should the Lord change the demographics of your area.
  4. Pray against any desire to leave the neighborhood if/when the neighborhood changes.
  5. In your preaching, apply the gospel to the nations... those around you in the next town and those across the globe. Try to cultivate in your people a large mindedness when it comes to thinking about the world and gospel. Expose them by way of illustrations and introductions to the difference that exists in the world, differences that are meant to be overcome by Jesus Christ in the gospel.
  6. Read Reconciliation Blues. Also, you might consider an older book, Dwight Perry's Breaking Down Barriers: A Black Evangelical Explains the Black Church. Similar Latino and Asian titles should be read as well. Commit yourself to being informed intellectually, even if being informed experientially isn't quite feasible.
  7. If the nations aren't in your town, go to their town. Emphasize missions and strategically direct your mission efforts to nations not like you. And direct some energies to cities or towns whose racial composition is different from your own.
  8. Diversify your staff anyway. Visit the local seminary or your Bible college alma mater and recruit minority students to come to your church as interns or staffpersons. Leave the glorious comfort of your hometown to seek and invest in the stranger. You'll be surprised what they add to your people and what your people will contribute to them.
  9. Move. Don't be afraid to pick up and settle in a land the Lord will show you... a land filled with people not like you who need the gospel preached, modeled, and lived even down to residential decisions.
I'm sure there are other things to do. Perhaps folks will leave suggestions in the comments section. But the point is this: whether you're in urban centers with international residents or in a mono-ethnic small town, none of us are on the sideline when it comes to warring for the redemption of the nations and none of us really have the luxury of allowing the church to be less than what the Lord intends for it to be. That means diversity is our business as the church, because the church by definition and the design of God is diverse.

It's time for us to really conquer these reconciliation blues... so that our racial sackcloth and ashes are finally and victoriously turned to joy and the oil of gladness.

Bro. Piper, I would send you some names... the only problem is that all the other forward and strategic thinking pastors I know already have these guys on their lists! Keep digging brother. Keep working to build the church that Jesus is building!

20 comments:

JT said...

Ah, Thabiti. Your posts raises lots of questions and concerns, not least the equation of the gospel and affirmative action (!), along with (what seems to me) an unwillingnness to consider that there might be legitimate, biblical concerns with "affirmative action." (BTW, you seem to be melding the ideas of diversity and affirmative action, but I don't think they are the same; one is a means, the other is an end.)

Let me start by asking: Isn't the basis of affirmative action, for better or for worse, that human distinctives are taken into account? And isn't the glory of the gospel that we are saved despite our distinctives?

Thanks,
JT

FellowElder said...

JT,
I'm glad you're troubled! :-)

I absolutely agree with you that diversity and affirmative action are two entirely different things.

But, I'm not sure I've really equated the gospel and affirmative action, at least that's not my intent. I'm saying something more abstract than that. It's an analogy of sorts.

What I mean to do with the notion of "Jesus and Affirmative Action" is to say that what God in the gospel has done is affirmatively (that is postively) taken action (that is actually done something) about the state of man. It seems to me that insofaras that's true, and insofaras part of his definite intent is the assembly of a diverse people, it's perfectly legitimate for Piper or any church leader to pursue diversity. I don't mean to say one bit that Jesus actually cares about the U. Mich admission policy or hiring policies, or that the gospel can be reduced to affirmative action. I mean to say that God in the Gospel moves toward people of all nations so, imho, the church who follows Him should move toward all people--and it's legitimate for that movement to be reflected in it's recruitment of staff, or pursuit of the loss not like them.

I'm not sure what I said that causes you to think there is "an unwillingness to consider that there might be legitimate, biblical concerns with affirmative action." Especially since I'm fairly sure that I do NOT support affirmative action the way it's practiced in most places. So, a little clarity would be helpful there. I think that's an honest miscommunication, not any anti-anti-affirmative action bias that I can think of.

You wrote: "Let me start by asking: Isn't the basis of affirmative action, for better or for worse, that human distinctives are taken into account? And isn't the glory of the gospel that we are saved despite our distinctives?"

I think the supposition of both your questions are either partial or incorrect. So, part of the basis of affirmative action is human distinction, yes, but the other part of the basis is CORRECTION for REAL historical abuses and systematic distortions based on those distinctions. That's what troubles me about my good, much loved white evangelical friends at times... they seem to routinely forget that a very real and wickedly destructive history (recent history, I might add) is attached to this issue. So, we can discuss whether this or that approach to affirmative action is an effective correction, but we have to keep the policy and its intent in proper historical perspective. The more complete statement of the "basis" for affirmative action is to correct for a sustained pattern of discrimination, mistreatment and denial BASED UPON race and gender.

Is the glory of the gospel that we are saved despite our distinctives? Hmmm.... I'm not sure I'd agree with that. What does God mean to communicate to us when He tells us everywhere (Gen. 12:1-3; Is. 19:23-25; Zeph. 3:8-10; Ps. 72:8-11; Gal. 3:8; passim) that He is taking into account every nation, language, etc. in His plan of redemption? It seems to me He is expressing some preference of some sort. Sounds more like a "racial quota" (to use the language of some) than it does a blind dismissal of distinctives. We're told pretty clearly in Eph. 3:10 that the revelation of the wisdom of God is bound together with the Jew-Gentile composition of the church. Rev. 5:9-10 is explicit in its association of the worthiness of the Savior with the fact that His blood purchases men from every nation. Honestly, I can't think of a passage that suggests we're saved despite our distinctives, unless you mean the distinctiveness of sin.

You're probably thinking of something specific. Help me see what you're thinking. If you're read some of the stuff I've written on race, you know I'm quite skeptical of the construct, freighted as it is with so much baggage. In fact, I don't think it's a biblical category at all. So, I'd really welcome feedback on ways I'm still carrying that construct forward in an unhelpful way or pointers to things I'm missing.
Your brother,
Thabiti

ajcarter said...

JT,
On these issues, I really do believe your heart is willing. I just wonder about your mind sometimes ;-). But don't give up trying. We need you, man.

JT said...

Thabiti,

Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I'll try to keep my comments (relatively!) concise, not wanting to be like an unwanted guest who wanders in and dominates the conversation!

Let me preface my comments by stating that I think you have one of the best blogs on the web and that there's no one else I'd rather be discussing these issues with than you! I don't usually wander into the comments section of the blogosphere (it's usually bad for my sanctification!), but this is an issue worth discussing, and you are a dialogue partner worth having.

You write that Jesus is "for affirmative action," that the gospel is "a message of affirmative action," and the church is "the ultimate affirmative action agency." The problem is that you don't qualify this (and chide Piper for qualifying it to this affect). The result is that it's confusing to try to figure out just what you mean and don't mean. For example, though you don't come out and say it, you seem to be using "affirmative action" in a non-standard way; namely, "action that's affirmative (i.e., proactive) with regard to diversity."

You clarify in your response to me that you don't mean anything like the U of Michigan stuff. But then why do you find "interesting" and "curious" that Piper would "offer an apologetic for this decision, a reaction against what some folks might consider the horrors of affirmative action." Furthermore, if you don't mean anything like the U of M stuff, then why do you write that "the other part of the basis [for "affirmative action"] is CORRECTION for REAL historical abuses and systematic distortions based on those distinctions." That sure sounds like you're talking about good old-fashioned affirmative action.

For my money, Piper is wise to offer qualifications so that he's not misunderstood as supporting such a practice and such syncretism.

"Affirmative action" doesn't mean simply "action that's affirmative" with regard to diversity. It's generally understood to refer to law and policies that require individuals to be judged with regard to their membership in a group, with the result that they receive preferential or compensatory treatment in order to acheive a more proportional representation in certain institutions or occcupations. (Thomas Sowell, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?, p. 38.) So far as I know, the first use of the term “affirmative action” in the racial discrimination context was JFK’s Executive Order No. 10,925 in 1961. Though it goes beyond the scope of this discussion, it is interesting to note that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 advocates equal opportunity (which I wholeheartedly support) but opposes affirmative action (which I reject.) (Cf. subsections 703(j) and 706(g).)

All of this may strike readers as a bit technical, but the upshot is that unless you offer some qualification or explanation, readers could think that you mean that something like that is tied to Jesus, his gospel, and his church. I understand that preachers (and bloggers!) can use provocative, evocative language to stir us up and to cause us to see things in new ways. But again, it's ironic to me that you would criticize Piper for seeking to cut off a misunderstanding. (Usually he's accused of not offering enough nuance!)

Regarding God's seeking of diversity. I understand God's decree of election to precede creation. That means that God did not so much decide to pursue peoples in various ethnicities, as that he decided to create and scatter his elect into different languages, ethnicities, etc.

I think we must be very careful when we equate something with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Affirmative action, as typically defined, simply doesn't work in the long-term. (For a study to this affect, see Thomas Sowell, Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empircal Study [Yale University Press, 2004].) Whatever usefulness it may have had in the past, it now is demeaning to black. I think it breeds both a sense of inward inferiority and outward resentment. I also find it hard to square with MLK's vision of caring more about the "content of our character" than "the color of our skin."

I don't disagree with seeing the divine design of diversity, the eschatological promise of diversity, the beauty of christocentric diversity, or the need to pursue diversity. I support seeking diverse pastoral staffs and diverse congregations. But I don't think we should baptize the language of "affirmative action" and say that it's part of the gospel.

I hope that helps clarify what I was getting at.

Respectfully, and with appreciation--

JT

FellowElder said...

JT,
Brother, you could never be an unwanted visitor here!! You're always welcome and you need to know I hold you in high esteem and deep affection. Welcome brother! And by the way, only long comments will be helpful in a conversation like this :-)

First, a clarification. I didn't mean anything in my post to "chide" or "criticize" Piper. I have nothing but applause for what he's doing. When I said I thought it interesting he had to offer a defense, that was "chiding" or "criticizing" what I think is probably a broad patch of white evangelicalism reading his letter. In other words, given everything that we know about how the Lord has used Piper, the theological convictions the Father has built in him, his passion for the nations... why should he not in fact feel the freedom to make this appeal without extensive qualification? Has John Piper of all people, not warranted enough support and respect from all of us to trust his and the Bethlehem elders' judgment in their own hiring decisions without picking up the freight of our pro- or anti-affirmative action positions?

I think he had to offer an apologetic because he runs the risk of not only being misunderstood but also facing a kind of political backlash that tends to lace together conservative Christianity with conservative politics. That's what I lament, not Piper's position at all. And the opening of the post (refering to Reconciliation Blues) was an attempt to express the disquieting effect such a "conversation" between white evangelicals has on an African American inside evangelicalism. It's sorta like being discussed while in the room but not actually acknowledged. Though not clearly stated, that is the overarching context and frame of mind for me in this post. But I'm in no way chiding Piper. I'm cheering him on!

Now... "affirmative action." I'm intentionally using that language with a different emphasis and in a different context. I want us to see the spirit and the reality of what Christ has done for us in the Cross as relevant for how we regard one another even in something like hiring decisions. Trust me, brother, I'm in no way confused about the relationship of man's laws that give us affirmative action and the Gospel of our dear Savior. If that's confused someone, I'm deeply pained. I in no way mean to equate the laws of man with the sacrificial death of the Son of God to satisfy the Law and wrath of God on behalf of the elect.

It seems to me, from your comments, that your objection to affirmative action is largely pragmatic??? It doesn't work so we should abandon it as a policy. It has negative consequences even for the beneficiaries so we should abandon it as a policy. Is that right? Or, is there more to your objection that I'm not hearing?

Lastly, you wrote:
"if you don't mean anything like the U of M stuff, then why do you write that "the other part of the basis [for "affirmative action"] is CORRECTION for REAL historical abuses and systematic distortions based on those distinctions." That sure sounds like you're talking about good old-fashioned affirmative action."

I wrote that because the historical mistreatment of ethnic minorities is real... and within the living memory of a whole lot of people. It seems to me that justice requires correction for that mistreatment. Now, saying that correction is an essential element of justice doesn't necessitate a particular view of affirmative action and may include any number of other remedies.

One of my graduate school mentors, Dr. Rupert Nacoste, was a social psychologist whose research expertise was procedural justice and affirmative action; so, I've read my share of literature and participated in my share of research on this from a social psychological vantage point. I'm not necessarily a fan of affirmative action because, as best as I understand the social psychological literature,
whether or not the procedure has the kinds of effects you describe depends almost entirely on the perceived fairness of the particular policy. In short, when folks (black or white, beneficiary or non) perceive that the policy is fair, even when it "awards points" for certain characteristics (race, gender), beneficiaries are not stigmatized and there is actually fairly strong support for the practice. Whether "it works" or not depends on whether people know and understand what the procedure is and judge it to be fair. So, if a person's objection is only pragmatic, I say let's find a procedure that works and that addresses real historical oppression and disenfranchisement. And for the sake of white evangelicalism in the eyes of many African Americans who would share much theologically with you, please let's have the detractors actually offer some recommendations or solutions. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing to glibly overlook a lot of very real and recent ugly history.

But if the objection really includes a more strident political or philosophical viewpoint, or is based on a denial of the historical reality that still affects a great many (I'm writing this as a member of the first generation of bused and desegregated school children), well... it's hard for me to reconcile those things with either the historical reality or the ethics of Scripture.

As for whether affirmative action is "demeaning," it might be good to ponder which is more demeaning... affirmative action or water fountains marked "colored only"... affirmative action or the almost universally unpunished hate crime called lynching. Not to put too sharp a point on it... but that's the context most African American readers older than the two of us will view this from. If they're both demeaning... I'd bet affirmative action is less so... and in either case the choice might best be left to the demeaned. Keep in mind that King's comments occur in the context of fighting for basic rights. In the broadest since of the term, he was calling government to take affirmative measures to right injustice. That we can draw a rhetorical and chronological distinction between the laws that became "affirmative action" and the appeals King made is, I think, a distinction without a difference.

Don't stop talking my brother!
Thabiti

RBA Founder Xavier Pickett said...

Great discussion!

Thabiti, thanks for bringing up the subject of affirmative action and choosing to interact with this while also taking Jesus and his teachings seriously in these areas. We need more of this in evangelicalism!

*going back to my seat on the sidelines to watch more of the dialog* :-)

Anonymous said...

Colossians 3:11 "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

We are in this world but not of it brothers!!! As we demonstrate to the world Christ's love we leave the world scratching their heads with this picture(verse above) of heaven on earth. Transcending the injustice and the visual differences of this world requires equality beyond our physical differences. It requires our "neighbor" being loved second only to Christ himself. THIS is how the world will know we are Christ carriers sealed by the Holy Spirit..My point, the semantics of words and theology do stimulate our minds but do not necessarily always stir us up in love...
Peace and Grace,
Chuck Cobb (minneapolis bound next Mon!!, Lord willing)
Douglasville, ga.
charles.h.cobb@delta.com

J.C. Hicks said...

2 Cor 5:16-19
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh . Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh , yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.


Greetings gentlemen,

My name is J.C. Hicks and I am an associate pastor in Jackson, MO. I am an American who is black at a predominantly (+95%) white church.

It has always seemed to me that any kind of affirmative action clashes with the phrase in verse 16 - regarding no one according to the flesh. I have personally enjoyed the fact that my local congregation recognizes my calling irrespective of my racial lineage.

I use irrespective as opposed to 'in spite of'(as if my color was a bad thing) or 'because of'(as if my color were an advantage.)

While I view Pastor Piper as a virtual mentor, I think any use of physical features in making judgements is disquieting, and would never want another human being to do this for me. If God in His sovergeignty has motivations for selecting the eldership or any other position in life based on socio-economics, He of course has that right. Nevertheless it appears that Paul specifically seems to eschew the use of physical characteristics in the above quoted passage. Further, I know of no where else where God endorsed such selection criteria. This honestly may be my own lack of knowledge and if anyone knows of a passage where God encourages culture or color as a part of the selection criteria I would like to study it.

It is true, that salvation is not a meritocracy. In that sense, God does employ what could be called a salvific affirmative action. But I think it is a tenuous stretch to apply His initiative in salvation as a principle to humans selecting people for ministry, employment, or else. 1st - As I beleive JT commented, the situations are not analagous. 2nd, and more importantly - The selector in the first case is God, and in the other areas is mankind. In all honesty I cannot tell the difference between using skin color as a factor and hair color as a factor. (Although we genetic redheads have been oppressed :>)

In humility I submit this note and encourage the Christian community to make spiritual judgments on a fleshless basis.

Godspeed,
J.C. Hicks
Pastor of Community
Fruitland Community Church

JT said...

Thabiti,

Thanks for your warm welcome.

You write: It seems to me, from your comments, that your objection to affirmative action is largely pragmatic??? . . . Is that right? Or, is there more to your objection that I'm not hearing?

The pragmatic aspect is really the least of my concerns--though I don't think it tends to "work" in the long run. My deeper concern is that I don't think it can be defended from a biblical concept of justice. In my view, the secular conception of affirmative action (adopted uncritically by many evangelicals) relies upon cultural relativism, a collectivist understanding of groups, and a conception of justice which requires equal outcome (i.e., proportional representation). Furthermore, I don't believe that injustice against one group (say, as an example, Chinese Americans) should be a means to promote justice among another group (say, as an example, African Americans). Add to it that it doesn't work, and, well, you've got a real mess!

In what follows in the rest of your post, I'm afraid that your approach probably has the effect of stifling genuine discussion. It has the effect, I think (doubtless unintentional) of painting me into an extremist corner. The subtle subtext is that by daring to question the secular conception of affirmative action, I probably deny the reality of historical atrocities! If my objections go beyond pragmatism, then the only alternative is that I hold to a "strident political or philosophical viewpoint." Further, I have to choose between the demeaning nature of segregation or the demeaning nature of affirmative action. Are the only options for progress marked by shame??

I'm willing to be convinced that I'm wrong--and hope that readers will have the forbearance not to prejudge my motives or beliefs simply because of my position on this. If someone can take the biblical concept of justice and square it with affirmative action, I'm all ears!

Blessings,
JT

Adrian said...

Well guys, I am slightly confused by all the politeness. I also confess to being entirely unqualified to comment on this since the whole concept of "going to a seminary" to find a future pastor is entirely alien to our kind of church. I am however still left with a couple of major questions for both JT and Thabiti

1. When considering "candidates" for pastoral positions, is it right to preferentially choose between two candidates based on skin color so that either an equivalent candidate or possibly even a better candidate with a white skin does not get the job that goes to someone with a non-white skin.

2. When advertising for "candidates" is it right to state that non-white applicants would be especially welcome?

3. If 2 occurs but then all applicants are assessed purely on some suitability criteria which are color blind does that consitute positive discrimination?

4 Which of the options 1 to 3 do you feel Piper is advocating?

5. Why do you think it is that it is still true to say in the UK and the USA that 11am on Sunday is the most segretated hour of the week?

Finally 6. for my own interest how on earth do you judge applicants that you barely know for their suitability for pastoral work?

It was 6. that I of course aimed to address in my own post - not to say that I dont think 1-5 are very important too.

FellowElder said...

JT,
Don't stop contributing and dialoguing brother! This is the best conversation I've had in a long time! I'm down here on an island... throw me a line brother! :-)

I really don't want to stifle conversation friend. I really, really don't. But I also don't want to have the conversation in a way that is too polite, too sanitary. The "debate" about affirmative action tends to soar well over real hurts, legacies, etc. for BOTH Blacks and whites. I'm not intending to make you out to be some kind of extremist. I'm trying to give you a sense of how at least one African American (and I think I'm somewhat representative) really FEELS when the discussion makes them virtual non-persons by passing too quickly past real hurts and scars. In other words, brother, I'm bringing you all my baggage. And I do hope you can keep in mind that I'm engaging you as one that is not at all "sold" on affirmative action as the strategy.

You wrote: "The subtle subtext is that by daring to question the secular conception of affirmative action, I probably deny the reality of historical atrocities!" That's not the subtext. That's why I asked the question about where you were coming from, and why I'm inviting folks who oppose the policy of affirmative action to offer some other thoughts/proposals about what the pursuit of justice might look like. I don't want to demonize you brother; I want to push you beyond a mere opposition to affirmative action toward a positive statement about what, if anything, we should do to address past or present discrimination.

So, on that note, would you be willing to further unpack this statement: My deeper concern is that I don't think it can be defended from a biblical concept of justice. In my view, the secular conception of affirmative action (adopted uncritically by many evangelicals) relies upon cultural relativism, a collectivist understanding of groups, and a conception of justice which requires equal outcome (i.e., proportional representation).

Your brother who really does value your opinion and learns a great deal from you. Grace and peace,
Thabiti

christopher said...

i'm really enjoying this conversation! while i think Adrian's question re: why it is that churches look for pastors outside of the local congregation is more important to our understanding of ecclesiology, admittedly, i am finding the discussion re: affirmative action more tittilating. (darn my flesh!) in any event, i would find it helpful if JT defined the "biblical concept of justice" to which he refers. although i may be wrong, i suspect that it looks a whole lot like procedural justice. imho, while procedural justice is commended in Scripture, and necessary for a biblical view of justice, it is not sufficient. lastly, where are these evangelicals who have uncritically adopted affirmative action?!? they sure don't live in my neighborhood!

FellowElder said...

Adrian,

1. First, historical context is key. What you're describing worked in the other direction for a couple centuries in the US. So, the "fairness" of the policy is at least associated with that long and recent history. Second, whether it's "right" depends on (a) is there intention to correct real discrimination or promote a legitimate diversity goal (as in Piper's case imho), and (b) how much more qualified is the other person. That's where procedural justice as a theory and body of research is helpful; it lays stress on particular criteria and removes the broad generalizations that aren't helpful. I'm not sure why an "equivalent candidate" should raise an issue. If they're equivalent then you're down to "soft" criteria like "fit" with other staff and possibly ethnicity if you have a diversity goal or concern.

2. When advertising for "candidates" is it right to state that non-white applicants would be especially welcome? Yes. It's actually done all the time. How different is that from attending a recruitment and career fair at a historically black college, for example?

3. If 2 occurs but then all applicants are assessed purely on some suitability criteria which are color blind does that consitute positive discrimination? I don't think so, but then I don't know exactly what you mean by "positive discrimination." Are you suggesting that simply recruiting ethnic applicants is discrimination?

4 Which of the options 1 to 3 do you feel Piper is advocating?I think #2 and #3--which I might term "affirmative recruitment" coupled with "competency-based selection."

5. Why do you think it is that it is still true to say in the UK and the USA that 11am on Sunday is the most segretated hour of the week?Because we're doing little to nothing to change that. We're exercising racial preference all the time in our selection of churches and we need to examine that.

Finally 6. for my own interest how on earth do you judge applicants that you barely know for their suitability for pastoral work?Prayerfully and carefully and over a long period of time. It's not ideal by any means. But where you must do so, I think a church should give itself permission to really take its time. In my mind, the search should proceed in this order: (1) hire from within; (2) hire men who come strongly recommended from like-minded churches you trust (preferrably staff persons or elders there); and (3) hire through a broader search. Just a quick take.

FellowElder said...

JC,
I'll have to look at 2 Cor. 5 at greater length, but I think the context there is salvific--"Christ died for all" (v. 14-15). "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh." I'm not sure the application you're drawing holds... it looks like you've done the same thing I did in the original post, only to the other side of the issue. I'll have to think about this more.

Thanks for the comments.
Thabiti

JT said...

Thabiti,

I jumped back to my own blog (www.theologica.blogspot.com) and posted some further thoughts there in response to your good questions.

Hope this helps my friend. I welcome your feedback.

Your friend,
Justin

A. B. Caneday said...

J. C. Hicks,

Amen! I believe that you rightly understand and practice 2 Cor 5:16ff. Your comments are music to my ears and a delightful sight for my eyes. You capture well the right and Christian sense, even the heart of the matter, when you say, "I use irrespective as opposed to 'in spite of' (as if my color was a bad thing) or 'because of' (as if my color were an advantage.)" This is precisely right. How completely loathsome it is that our color or lack thereof should either advantage or disadvantage us. How loathsome and despicable it is that we should look upon another and either favor or disfavor one because of color/lack of color or in spite of one's color/lack of color. Herein is the essence of rightful and proper color blindness, the kind that MLK, Jr. called for, the kind that the apostle Paul calls for in 2 Cor 5:16ff.

Adrian said...

Thabiti
Thanks for answering my questions. Would be interesting to see if JT sees them any differently. It is very interesting to me as for once I do not have a fully formed position on all of this except that I fully support intentionality in pursuing an ethnically diverse church and leadership

Anthony Stiff said...

Thabiti and Justin, thankyou for this spirited conversation on this issue, I've posted some thoughts to it here if you're interested;

http://setsnservice.wordpress.com/2007/01/31/affirmative-action-john-piper-and-diversity-in-a-post-civil-rights-time/

It's been very helpful to see you both carry this dialogue on here. Thanks again. I've linked others to it.

Mark Dever said...

Always glad to be called a fundamentalist!
Mark D.

Anonymous said...

From the Amazon.com review: "Regrettably, the book ends with the passive notion that no matter how much we strive to bring about racial reconciliation, we must trust God to bring about change. In spite of this disappointing conclusion, Gilbreath's recovery of Tom Skinner's work is worth the price of the book."

Good thing nobody really trusts Amazon.com in the area of discernment. :) I find much encouragement in the fact that God is in charge.