Monday night in Boston, a despicable act of racism took place. There are not two baseball teams I like less than the Orioles and the Red Sox, and there are few players I cheer against more than Adam Jones. There’s a reason for that. He’s a confirmed Yankee-killer. Just brutalizes Yankee pitching. But last night he was subjected to racist taunts from the stands during the Orioles game against the much-hated Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox condemned the action in no uncertain terms as did the mayor of Boston. Boston fans have gone on social media to decry the racist and his actions. There is a growing movement to do something odd. Tonight, the Red Sox may give Adam Jones a standing ovation when he comes to bat. If you know baseball, you know how odd that is.
A week or two ago, another act took place that has set the Baptist world a-buzzin’. A group of preaching profs at Southwestern – mostly older white guys – posed a picture dressed in “gangsta rap” garb as a bit of levity in honor of a colleague who likes to rap. It wouldn’t have gone any farther except that someone did as we do today and tweeted the photo. Then the inimitable Dr. Barry McCarty retweeted the pic and it spread like wildfire. This “joke” was taken as anything but a joke on social media. Within a couple of hours, it had been taken down and Dr. David Allen had issued a forceful and unnuanced apology for the picture, decrying racism and denouncing it. That was not enough for many and this issue has continued to roil for several days. A post on this site that was put up last week is actually GAINING steam – something that posts never do after they have been up nearly a week.
If you read some of the social media, you’d think the SWBTS picture was on par with the comments at Fenway.
I have been about as disconnected as I could be from social media – dealing with issues at my church, with Pastors’ Conference preparation, and with a nasty bug of some sort. But I noticed today that this thing is still growing in intensity, and I would like to make the following (dangerous) observations. When old white guys like me opine on racial issues, we are generally walking a fine line. I will attempt to do that nonetheless.
1. The photo should have been kept off social media.
This is something I am learning – what to publish and what to keep private. That photo, as a joke between friends, was whatever those friends thought it was. As soon as it went public on social media, everything changed.
On the other side of this, it is nearly impossible to take a picture, share it with anyone, and it NOT go public. In a digital age, almost everything eventually goes public.
2. The Southwestern professors had NO racist intent when they made and posted the picture.
Was the picture racially insensitive? The answer to that seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Did it play into stereotypes? Yes. But Dr. Allen, Dr. McCarty and the others were not intending to be racially insensitive when they took that picture. They were joking with a friend. It was lighthearted. A lark. Whatever the RESULT was, the INTENT was not racism. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know these men.
That does not absolve them of the consequences of posting the photo, but if we are people of grace, their intent should count for something.
3. The apology given by Dr. Allen and by the seminary was as good as it gets.
They did it right.
You have seen it, haven’t you? “Mistakes were made.” “I reacted wrongly to his sin.” We even have a term for it, “non-apology apologies.” Dr. Allen and the seminary did not do that. They owned the mistake and they apologized. They attempted to give no cover or context. “We offended and we are sorry.” Their response was a model of Christian repentance. I could not find a single thing to criticize about how they responded.
4. Any Christian that does not accept their repentance is in violation of Scripture.
We are duty-bound to forgive one another when repentance is offered. They did. We must. Case closed.
5. The lack of grace in Christian social media is stunning and disturbing.
We wonder why we can’t reach the world for Christ, and I am sure there are a hundred reasons. But when you see the extreme lack of grace demonstrated by many who name the name of Christ on social media, it becomes clearer. If we refuse to live out grace how can we effectively preach it? When every effort the ERLC makes to promote racial reconciliation is dismissed as “race-baiting” – we are not people of grace. When we continue to prosecute SWBTS and the professors after a genuine apology – we are not people of grace. Honestly, if the lost world reads the comment streams of Christian blogs and the twitter interactions of Christians, then listens to our messages about the love and grace of Christ, they are likely to be very confused. We are not living what we profess.
Let me be clear: I am not confronting my friend Dwight McKissic here. If I wanted to do that, I’d do it privately. One thing I know about Dwight – he speaks his mind. If he finds new information that changes his mind, he apologizes (I’ve seen him apologize often if he misunderstood or misstated things) and moves on. He confronts often, but it is with a spirit of grace, in my experience.
Now, lest you think I am writing this simply to defend SWBTS and the professors, let me say some other things.
6. It is not for us white folks to decide what is and isn’t racially offensive.
I will be honest – and perhaps get killed for it. I’m not a gun guy (pro-Second Amendment, but I don’t own or use guns), and the gun in the picture bothered me more than garb. I thought it was silly. But can I share something many of you may not know about me? I’m not black. I’m a pasty-faced white guy from Iowa. Really white – we haven’t seen the sun in months! The picture didn’t offend me.
But I hear White people often telling Black people what should and what should not offend them. It’s not our job to do so. I have often offended people when I had no intent to offend. Perhaps the person misunderstood me. Perhaps it was unintentional. Sometimes it is willful. But after the racial history of America, it is not our duty to decide for the Black community what they can and cannot find offensive.
That is why Dr. Allen’s apology was so good. He said he wasn’t even going to try to defend the picture based on their motives (which were not racist). People were offended and they took responsibility.
My fellow pale-skinned brethren, we need to listen, not talk, when it comes to racial offense. I guess I don’t really understand why that photo engendered such violent reaction, but it did.
7. There was a lot of subtext in this brouhaha.
Back in the Wild West days (mid to late 2000s) of blogging, SWBTS was the focal point of a lot of angst. You were pro-Paige or you were anti-Paige. Baptist Identity was the hot topic of the day. Lots of you probably don’t even know what that controversy is all about. Thank God if that is true. Some of my best friends today were my blog enemies (frenemies?) back then.
Whenever something happens at Southern, there’s a lot of subtext over the Calvinism issue. When something happens at SWBTS, there is often subtext over past issues. Those who have a negative view of SWBTS tend to view things with less charity than those who are supporters.
8. We need to continue to have discussions of racial harmony and reconciliation, but this issue should go away.
The SBC absolutely must keep racial reconciliation on the hot-topic list. We cannot back-burner this one. When I hear the idea that is sometimes presented that somehow we have solved racial issues in the SBC, I want to cringe and cry. “We apologized and we elected Fred Luter, what more do they want?” C’mon man. We have a long way to go before this issue is solved. Thank God for Dr. Moore, the ERLC, and others in the SBC who are keeping this issue front and center.
But this SWBTS issue should not be used as the template. Whatever you think about the pic, SWBTS took ownership of the mistake and apologized – genuinely, in a God-honoring way. Grace is not an option, it is mandatory. Be thankful that they modeled grace here and let’s move on.
And for the love of God and all that is holy, let us begin to season our online conversations with grace every day. We cannot effectively proclaim Christ while skewering his Body online.
And…Let’s Go, Yankees.