In light of the bloody events of this weekend, white conservatives have a unique and significant opportunity to help our nation heal from its long-standing racial wounds. But in order to help our nation heal, we must reiterate our opposition to the white nationalism and supremacy that have grown in our camp. We must resist the temptation to ignore the problem or shift the blame. We must rethink our understanding of the nature of racism and our approach to overcoming it. In so doing, we will be able to adopt a better and more conservative approach, one that will help our nation heal.
Let’s take these steps one by one.
First, we must openly resist the white nationalism and white supremacy that are diametrically opposed to biblical Christianity and Constitutional conservatism, but have grown within our own camp. As I wrote yesterday, the Bible teaches that God created every human being – regardless of race – in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27-28). And he sent his son in a brown Middle Eastern body to save the whole world, including sinners of every race and ethnicity (John 3:16). Genuine Christianity overcomes social, ethnic, and gender barriers (Galatians 3:26, 28).
Second, we must resist the temptation to ignore the problem or shift the blame. Thankfully, many white conservative Christian leaders did not ignore the problem; they spoke openly and forcefully against this weekend’s torch-wielding protesters and acts of domestic terrorism. But the real test is whether we are willing to resist racism over the long haul. Will we place racial reconciliation at the forefront of our long-term agenda instead of letting it slide to the back? Will we recognize the negative role people in our camp have played instead of succumbing to the temptation to blame the Left for everything? Similarly, I am grateful that many white conservative Christian leaders did not shift the blame to Antifa or some other organization on the left. Antifa needs to be criticized, but now is not the time to do so. Let’s have the moral fortitude to clean up our own “house” before pointing out the problems in others’. Otherwise our words ring hollow.
Third, we must recognize that our nation’s wounds are caused by two types of racism: individual and structural. Individual racism occurs when a person thinks, feels, acts, or speaks in a prejudiced manner toward another person merely because of that person’s ethnic heritage. Structural racism occurs when a society’s personal prejudices coalesce to corrupt its social institutions, tilting those institutions in favor of one ethnic group. Many conservatives view racism exclusively in individual terms. Many progressives overemphasize the structural aspect, to the neglect of the individual. But a healthy Christian conservative view will keep these two aspects in balance, speaking out against personal prejudice and corrupted institutions. Only then can we secure justice and equality for all.
Fourth, we must build a better and more conservative model for overcoming racism. As sociologist George Yancey has demonstrated, the construction of a better model requires that we go beyond the flawed secular “race theories” that have been imposed on us in recent years.
One flawed theory is colorblindness. Advocates for this view want us to overcome racism by ignoring racial realities, viewing the other person in a racially-generic manner. On the positive side, this theory wants whites to stop being personally prejudiced and wants black and brown Americans to avoid identifying racism where it does not exist. On the negative side, this theory doesn’t account for the Bible’s positive emphasis on cultural diversity, as well as the Bible’s teaching that sins, such as racism, corrupt and misdirect social and cultural institutions.
Another flawed theory is Anglo-conformity. This model is similar to the colorblindness model, but also thinks that racial problems are primarily economic and should be resolved primarily through government-sponsored programs. The strength of this view is that it acknowledges tough economic realities and empowers minorities to take the lead in solving the ills of their families and neighborhoods. The weakness of this model is that it overemphasizes economic solutions and wants minority cultures to accommodate themselves to white culture.
Still another flawed theory is multicultural relativism. Advocates for this view want to build a society that caters to distinct racial and ethnic groups. They want diversity present in public schools, official government forms, and political party platforms. The strength of this model is that it respects individual racial and ethnic groups. The problem, as Yancey notes, is that it often ends up belittling white culture and relativizing “right” and “wrong” by allowing minority cultures go un-critiqued while the majority culture is perpetually on the hot seat.
A final flawed theory is white-responsibility. Advocates for this view rightly place the blame for America’s historic racial injustice racism squarely on whites. Yet sometimes they present their view as if minorities are unable to perpetrate racial injustice because the sin of “racism” requires one to have cultural power. The strength of this model is its revelation of the ways a single group can dominate social groupings and cultural institutions. The problem with this model is that it sometimes ignores sins committed by minorities and in so doing, ironically, disempowers minorities by alleviating them of responsibility while at the same time alienating whites.
We must move beyond these and other flawed models, choosing instead to build a better and more conservative model for overcoming racism. Instead of ignoring racial realities, as colorblind advocates often do, we will recognize other people for who they are. Instead of placing the blame exclusively on somebody else, as white supremacists and white-responsibility advocates do, we will refuse to assign the blame entirely to any one group. Instead of relativizing right and wrong, as multiculturalists often do, we will call all groups to repentance and entrust all groups with responsibility.
This is a deeply and profoundly conservative approach. It is built on the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that all human beings are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. It draws upon the Bible’s clear teaching that all human beings possess inherent worth and dignity. It recognizes racism in its individual and structural manifestations. And it emphasizes personal responsibility.
So let’s take responsibility. The nation is watching; do we have the moral fortitude and resolve to build racial reconciliation into our platform? The white nationalists and supremacists are also watching; will we make clear that there is no room for them in American conservatism? Let’s make clear that we do have the resolve, that we do reject white nationalism and supremacisms as unconstitutional, as frontal assaults on the Christian gospel, and as denials of human dignity.
In doing this, we can restore our integrity, love our black, brown, and white neighbors, and help our nation heal from its long-standing racial wounds.
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Very good. I especially appreciated your points three and four, which are not insights we’re used to seeing from conservative Christians.
One quibble: George Yancey doesn’t consider himself a conservative. He corrected me once when I wrote the same thing.
David, thank you for your comments, and for correcting my description of George. I’ll fix it!
Outstanding article Bruce. One of the best I’ve read in quite some time.
Thank you, Seth!
Why is now not the time to criticize Antifa? Why can’t we shift the debate to two sides being “those that seek racial division” and everyone else? I don’t really think problem is in our camp. Promotional of racial division is by definition not a conservative idea?
I’ll be criticizing Antifa shortly. But what I’m trying to say is that conservative outlets have produced hundreds of thousands of criticisms of Antifa, BLM, and other movements and protests groups on the left. And I, as a conservative, have published hundreds of articles against the left and its problems. Which means it is just fine and right to devote our time calling out the nasty toxic stuff that is arising from within conservative ranks. I don’t understand why I can publish one tiny 800-word article against white nationalists and white supremacists without white conservatives immediately having to say “But…”
Writing a research paper on race/racism from a biblical perspective and this article has been immensely helpful/able to supplement my work. Thanks for such a straightforward, motivating insight.