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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’


The internet is filled with arguing, debate and “discussion”. Whether on Twitter, in a Facebook group or the comments on a blog piece or article, there you find it and it often degenerates into a dumpster fire.

I can often be discouraged by that, particularly when it occurs among pastors and elders. I expect worldly people to act like a dumpster fire. I understand that as a sinner, I am seconds away from starting dumpster fires. But I also grasp something of the grace of God, the love for the saints and other safety nets to keep me from stumbling and hopefully not put a stumbling block before others. It is a process, and part of my sanctification (becoming more like Jesus).

In one of his letters (Works, Vol. 1 pp. 252-257), John Newton discusses candor (or candour for the Brits) in a way that I thought helpful in processing some of the debates I have been a part of in the last year or so.

Candor- noun

  1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: The candor of the speech impressed the audience.
  2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality: to consider an issue with candor. (Dictionary.com)
He recognizes both true and counterfeit candor or open, sincere speech. He asserts that “true candor is a Christian grace, and will grow in no soul but a believing heart.” As a grace, it is a fruit of the Spirit, not our own effort though we are also responsible to seek such candor. If you are a Christian, especially an elder or pastor, you should be marked by increasing candor.
I see some claiming candor, though they don’t use the word, though they don’t seem to know what it means. I’ll get back to this later.
This true candor which is a Christian grace is like this:
“It forms the most favorable judgment of persons and characters, and puts the kindest construction upon the conduct of others that it possibly can, consistent with a love of the truth. It makes due allowances for the infirmities of human nature, will not listen with pleasure to what is said to the disadvantage of any, nor repeat it without a justifiable cause.”
This gives me some hope as I’ve seen signs of growth in me. Newton sounds like he’s talking about charity or love. He’s not. He’s talking about speaking the truth in love rather than divorced from love. “Open rebuke” is often claimed to say the most unloving things to others.
Why do I, as I have been accused by others, “make excuses” for others? I try to form the most favorable judgment of them, unless they prove otherwise (by repeatedly berating or accusing others, as an example). Love should move us to see the best, not the worst, in our brothers. This is most important when information is lacking, when we don’t have the whole picture. What do you fill that in with- the worst you could imagine your brother doing, or the best? Are we being charitable or giving way to the inner Pharisee who loves to condemn all who dare differ from us?
This is to be consistent with a love of the truth. We don’t sweep facts under the rug. It is about seeing facts in context, and allowing the person to speak for themselves. Newton is not wanting us to avoid accusation of sin, but to be clear that what we are calling sin is actually sin, and they are actually committing it.
We also make proper allowances for human frailty. We don’t expect people to be perfect, nor express everything perfectly. I sometimes get frustrated with CavWife because she doesn’t express things the way I would, and then I misunderstand her. We talk about that, about how we can communicate more clearly. But I don’t accuse her of being a liar! (Or a liberal/progressive/fundamentalist/Pharisee, poopy head, idiot, jerk etc.)That starts a dumpster fire.
Recently we had one of these discussions, and a child asked if we were getting a divorce (likely because some extended family is, not because this is an everyday event). My reply was that this was so we didn’t divorce, but talked through our issues. And we do it without name-calling. But I digress.
To use today’s jargon, this is a gospel-driven (or centered) candor. Newton wants to derive such candor from the gospel. He recognizes the power of sin even in the best of us.
“There is an unhappy propensity, even in good men, to a selfish, narrow, censorious turn of mind; and the best are more under the power of prejudice than they are aware.”
Yes, even the best of us have prejudices or blind spots. We will deny it, but sometimes the charge is true. Some men get particularly exercised over certain subjects. So exercised that they are unreasonable and express themselves with great flair, as one friend noted recently.
Newton continues to describe what this gospel-centered candor looks like.
“A truly candid person will acknowledge what is right and excellent in those from whom he may be obliged to differ: he will not charge the faults or extravagances of a few upon a whole party or denomination: if he thinks it is his duty to point out or refute the errors of any persons, he will not impute to them such consequences of their tenets as they expressly disavow; he will not willfully misrepresent or aggravate their mistakes, or make them offenders for a word: he will keep in view the distinction between those things which are fundamental and essential to the Christian life, and those concerning which a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers.”
In controversy, we often ignore the common ground. Perhaps we assume it, but based on the accusations I often see flying about we aren’t. We are ignoring the common ground and focusing on the points of supposed disagreement as though that was all that mattered. Then we begin to accuse people of ideas and actions they haven’t thought or committed.
Too often the actions of a few are imputed to the “whole”. For example, a conference like Revoice means that the PCA is turning into the PC(USA), a group of compromising people one step away from liberalism. That’s the stuff I push back against but, frankly, it isn’t true.
True candor doesn’t put words in other people’s mouth, and it accepts what people say. The issue of identity was huge in the Revoice dumpster fire. I found a stubborn refusal by many to accept what they meant by key phrases on the controversy, and a stubborn demand that others use “my terminology”. Candor can say, “not the way I’d put it, but I can understand what you are trying to say.” It doesn’t burn down the house over a word or phrase someone knowingly uses differently.
True candor also recognizes that good Christians disagree on things not essential to the Christian life. Scripture is not equally clear on all issues. There are some disagreements (many?) that don’t strike at the vitals of Christianity. As a result, we shouldn’t draw lines in the sand over them. Acknowledge you disagree, be honest about that, but don’t make the other person into a damnable heretic as a result. They aren’t Servetus just because you disagree with them on a finer, less clear point.
Newton provides us with another remind that should dampen our desire to set the dumpster on fire.
“Let us, my friend, be candid: let us remember who totally ignorant we ourselves once were, how often we have changed sentiments in one particular or other, since we first engaged in the search of truth; how often we have been imposed upon by appearances; ….”
Remember that you grew into your positions, and they may need time to grow into them as well. I don’t get angry because my 8 year-old can’t do algebra yet. While, for instance, all elders have the same office, they don’t have the same maturity and experience. While God may want to use you to help them grow, accusations, name-calling etc. is not how He intends that to happen. Can you imagine how the conversation with Apollos would have gone if Priscilla and Aquila started with “Apollos, you ignorant mimbo…”? A different, better conversation is “I think you are right here, and have some qualms about these things.”
Newton does warn against false candor, which “springs from an indifference to the truth, and is governed by the fear of men and the love of praise.” Make sure there is an indifference to the truth rather than a greater emphasis on one truth than you put. I’ve heard such accusations about the fear of men that wasn’t necessarily true. For instance, when I joined in repenting of our denomination’s past racism, it wasn’t because I was afraid of others or I was virtue signalling. I believed it was the right, biblical way to deal with our history even if I wasn’t a part of it (I’ve only been here 10 years). I chose a path of reconciliation. So, I think candor doesn’t assume motives and accuse but asks about them.
True candor doesn’t divorce itself from truth or minimize truth. It grapples with truth, and sometimes that can be hard to do in our world in light of our human limitations and sinfulness.
“Far be that candor from us which represents the Scripture as a nose of wax, so that a person may reject or elude the testimonies there given to the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the all-powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, with impunity.”
To be Christian candor is to maintain essential Christian doctrines. In the context of the letter, he affirms the gifts of non-Christians in their areas of expertise (doctors, lawyers, engineers etc.) without commending them in theology. So, we see here another boundary placed upon true candor. It recognizes the limitations of others, as well as their strengths.
“Then the strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and believers would receive each other without doubtful disputation.”
There are strong and weak brothers. Mature and immature brothers. The strong and mature should bear with, rather than condemn, the weak and immature. Far too often we doubt another’s relation to Christ because they don’t align with our theology or method of ministry perfectly. We play the role of judge which is reserved for God. I’m not saying you can’t disagree, or express that disagreement and say something is wrong. What I’m saying is that our tendency to declare someone who holds to basic Christian tenets and evidences grace to not be a Christian because we disagree.
True candor doesn’t just happen. Newton ends this letter with this recognition.
“… we ought to cultivate a candid spirit, and learn from the experience of our own weakness, to be gentle and tender to other; avoiding at the same time that indifference and cowardice, which, under the name of candor, countenances error, extenuates sin, and derogates from the authority of Scripture.”
Discernment and candor are not simply about recognizing what is wrong, but also about recognizing what is right. The people we interact with have both right and wrong ideas. I am not 100% right and they 100% wrong. When we act like that, we start dumpster fires and destroy relationships with people who are our brothers. May God help us to learn how to disagree with one another so that we grow together, before it is too late.
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I’ve been trying to not say anything about Ferguson. There are too many problems at work (obstruction, militarization of the police, racial profiling, riots & looting, racism, media manipulation, social activism …) and our culture has a tendency to be reductionistic. There is also a problem of a lack of knowledge (what are the facts?) as well as understanding.

Let’s start by saying that I am writing this as the white father of a black son (and daughter). I have concerns about when they are older and not with me or their mother. At this moment we don’t live in a community with many African-Americans. The racial issues seem to be more about the white vs. Hispanic or white vs. Native American populations. I grew up in a place where the most common minorities were Puerto Ricans (usually poor) and French Canadians (often middle class).

These realities color my perspective. I understand that. So while I don’t want unarmed teenagers gunned down by police or citizens, whether they are black or white, I have seen too many times when our country has been burned when more facts come out. I remember the Tawana Brawley hoax (thanks Al Sharpton), the fact that Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic” and not just Hispanic who was physically assaulted. I remember the false accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team who while not angels were not rapists either. In other words, there is a growing list of false accusations by one community (and the press) against the other. As a result, I withhold judgment precisely because we’ve been through this before.

As a white man, I see knee jerk reactions (fed by the media AND the police who routinely refuse to release information that could defuse situations). I do want accurate, timely information. I completely understand a community’s desire to get information. I see peaceful protest, like Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated, as the best option. Too often I see violent protests and looting (they make for good headlines, I know). Frustration is vented in the wrong directions, and it ends up looking like Do the Right Thing, Part 2. Misplaced rage is an ugly thing and the wrong people get hurt, financially or physically. I still remember the clips of the Rodney King riots when the man was pulled from the truck and beaten with a cement block.

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I’m reading a book on sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 4 in preparation for my sermons on that chapter coming up. The book is only 750ish pages. I have plenty of work ahead of me. But some of the sermons are well worth it, like one entitled Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics preached in October, 1966. Think about that for a moment, 1966. Amazing to me how much of what he says fits our contemporary situation.

He begins with noting the essence of Christianity: “we have within us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The Christian life is a spiritual life under the power and direction of the Spirit. This great salvation “is to enable us to live in the world and to look forward to the glory that is to come.” This positive beginning shifts as the Dr. begins to lay the smack down. He gets quickly to exposing the sins of his time in England that mirror those of ours here in America.

“We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries- the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!”

He was addressing the Jewish-Samaritan prejudice. Later in the sermon he brings us to the problems of Apartheid and the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. The people in England were denouncing the white South Africans and Americans. He admits, obviously, the sinfulness of racism, but takes this as evasiveness. The woman at the well used this prejudice to evade Jesus, and the Dr.’s contemporaries were using those prejudices in other nations to evade the truth about themselves.

“You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself. While you are denouncing these people or friends in America or somewhere else over this racial problem, you are full of self-righteous indignation. That is very clever, but you are just evading the problem of your own life, the running sore of your soul.”

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If you follow my other blog, you know CavWife and I have adopted 2 children from Africa. In a recent post there, I mentioned that we expect to experience various forms of racism.

Racism has many sources. Okay, ultimately one source- the sinful heart of a man or woman. Why they sin in this way can have many different causes. Some people have grown up among racists, and “caught” it. They heard various lies all their lives, and take them as true.

Sometimes racism has found a place in our hearts because of mistreatment at the hands of people from that race. We’ve been robbed, beaten or worse. We wrongly project our fears upon all of those from that race. As I have been (slowly) reading about the Great African War in Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, one thing that stuck out to me as the tales of ethnic hatred (racism) was that people recall the atrocities committed against their tribe, but not those committed by their tribe. I notice the same thing in America. Each ethnic group is quick to point out how they have been wronged, but can’t seem to remember how they have wronged the other groups.

Another reason I can think about is fear. Often new ethnic groups threatened to take away job from the working poor. That fear often drives racism. Where I grew up, we saw prejudice against French Canadians and Puerto Ricans. The French Canadians often came south for jobs in construction.

I’m sure you may be able to come up with other reasons for racism. I really want to focus on the cure of racism.

I’m sure education has its place. But it really is insufficient. In his book Union With Christ, Billings brings us to union with Christ. As a Christian, individuals have to realize they are not only united to Jesus by the Spirit, but also with all those who are united to Jesus. This means you are united to people of the ethnic group you despise or look down upon. Ponder that. The Reformed Church in South Africa began to ponder that, Billings notes. Separate communion is part of what justified apartheid. Restoring communion between people of different races is part of what dissolved apartheid, or more correctly the racism that drove it.

This is a theological reality that we need to grow into as we are sanctified. We come into a greater understanding and experience of our union with Christ, and one another. This union is not merely an intellectual thing. But as a spiritual union, is done by the power of the Spirit. It is by that union that we receive the power of the Spirit by which God raised Christ from the dead. The Spirit gives us the power to love- both God and neighbor. We begin to ask God to give us, by virtue of this union and the power of the Spirit, love for those for whom we currently have no love.

I am a big movie goer. Or I should say watcher since I rarely go to the movies anymore. But if you watch the movies that deal with racism, like Remember the Titans, American History X and The Hurricane, you find a commonality. Racists change, not because of education, but because of relationship. There was a relationship they had which slowly eroded the lies, fear and bitterness. Soon the hatred was replaced by love.

Too often we want God to just reach in to our miserable, sin-ridden hearts and pluck out the racism and bigotry. He refuses to do this. What He tells us to do is love them, or get into a relationship with some of the people you hate. As you relate to people and get to know them better, the lies and fears will rise to the surface. Now is when the real sanctification takes place. We put those sinful desires to death. We confront those lies with truth. We overcome those fears with courage. We bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on these sinful responses, and begin to love these people we have refused to love in the past.

Racism is a sin against both creation and redemption. It fails to recognize our common ancestry, and (at least for Christians) our common redemption. Racist have a gospel problem, and need the gospel cure. That cure is more severe than forgiveness. The gospel calls us to, and empowers us to, put these particular sins to death. The gospel enables us to put on love. Being gospel work doesn’t mean it is easy. It is painful to face the racism that exists in our hearts. It is shameful to have those thoughts about another’s supposed inferiority based on the color of their skin, ethnic background or other reason not connected to their character. Faith and repentance are painful to the sinful nature. But they are something that must happen if we are to move beyond racism, one person at a time.

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A few weekends ago, CavWife and I watched District 9.  It was certainly different, part pseudo-documentary and part sci-fi action adventure.  It was dark and portrayed an ugly world filled with prejudice.  CT puts it well in calling the look “gritty and gruesome.”

Last night a friend and I saw Avatar in 3-D.  It portrayed a beautiful world that was being marred by humanity.  It looks lavish and slick.  But in many ways, it was the same movie (though it also has elements of Dances with Wolves, The Mission, Alien Resurrection and a nod to Apocalypse Now as well).

Both movies are about the conflict between humans and aliens.  District 9 takes place in this world (supposedly from 1982-2002).  Avatar takes place on Pandora.  The former has ugly aliens that look like, and are derisively called Prawns.

In Avatar the Na’vi are beautiful, sensual “aboriganies that live in trees.”  The technology is amazing, as Sigorney Weaver’s avatar looks like a huge, blue, hot version of her with a tail.  The facial structure is similar enough that you can recognize her.

Prawn- definitely not sensual

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We finally watched the latest movie by Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino.  He plays a crotchedy, bigoted, foul-mouthed widower who ends up learning to care about people- in his own way.

The movie opens with his wife’s funeral and we are introduced to this distant family.  They are distant because he is essentially toxic.  They know little to nothing about him, only that his is abrasive.  We don’t see very much of them except as they try to relieve their guilt over neglecting him, or try to use him to get something they want.

Walt Kowalski is pursued by a young priest who made a promise to his wife.  But he essentially rejects his family’s faith.  It does not seem to address the needs of his heart, which are more than he’s ready to admit.  The young priest makes no headway.

Walt’s neighborhood has changed, considerably.  And he’s uncomfortable with all the strange-speaking immigrants on his street.  Until one night when he stops the local gang from abusing his neighbor.  He soon becomes the unofficial protector of the neighborhood.  He slowly allows his neighbors into his life.

The neighbor feels out of sorts too.  He has no father-figure, and has turned away from his family’s faith as irrelevant to life in America.  He is being pressured by the gang, led by his cousin, to join, and the initiation is to steal Walt’s mint Gran Torino.

Wally sees the young man only as a thief, who works for him as a type of penance.  Soon, his perception changes and he begins to guide and direct the young man in his own akward way.  And this brings him into repeated conflict with the gang.

The middle of the movie moved a bit slowly as the relationship between the main characters developed.  The priest nearly disappears.  He finally confesses the misdeeds that have haunted him all his adult life, to the young neighbor.  Finally able to love, he lays down his life for his friends.

This is a movie about violence that does not glorify violence.  We see how violence has disfigured his soul and mutilated his relationships.  He wants none of this for his neighbor, seeking to save him in the only way that seems to make sense to him: sacrifice.

It is a movie with a message- perhaps Eastwood’s own repentance- but the telling is not easy.  Walt’s rants are not PC and loaded with profanity.  But we also see that people can change, they are not cast in cement.  Eastwood uses a variety of metaphors to communicate what is going on internally.  And a tough of humor.  Sadly, sometimes it is those just like us that pose the greatest danger to us.  Race is insufficient to overcome selfishness and greed.  It takes something alittle more- love.

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