The Color Question

October 7, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part 8 of a multi-part series reviewing Thaddeus J. Williams’ book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. This book is published at a critical time when many in our nation, including Christians, wrestle with the concept of justice. Williams starts with the clear biblical command that Christians must “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). Not everything labeled “justice,” however, is necessarily biblical justice. Therefore, Williams poses twelve questions to help Christians discern true, biblical justice, while calling us to do true justice. I commend this book if you want to dig deeper and be more faithful in seeking justice. 

The eighth question Williams poses is the “Color Question.” He asks, “Does our vision of social justice promote racial strife?” (p. 92). Williams confronts head-on some of the prevailing perspectives about racial justice. This perspective “singles out a physical feature that God gave some people and not others. It then uses that feature not as a physical descriptor but as a mark of evil” (p. 106). This approach to racial justice leads one “public theologian” to declare “whiteness is wicked” at a Christian conference (p. 101). Williams is careful enough to ask what is meant by “whiteness.” “If we use whiteness to mean the devastating idea crafted by sinners that paler skin justifies treating darker skinned people like anything less than divine image-bearers, then, yes, that is an evil idea” (p. 101). Yet, as Williams points out, the meaning “is all too easily muddled.” 

This is one of the areas that I appreciate about Williams’ approach. He says, “the God who commands us to seek justice is the same God who commands us to ‘test everything’” (p. 96). And Williams tests everything, regardless of what “side” or perspective on social justice he is evaluating. Too often the discussion about social justice gets heated because we are unwilling to “test everything.” We are too quick to accept prevailing narratives about discrimination (see chapter 7, The Disparity Question) or we “swiftly write off all claims of discrimination.” Williams calls out, “As Christians, we must do better” (p. 96). 

In the spirit of testing everything, Williams poses three questions to evaluate the meaning of whiteness:

  1. Does claiming that “whiteness is wicked” drop a glamor filter over nonwhite cultures? … “Evil is not an exclusively white, Western problem; it is a human problem” (p. 102). 
  1. Does claiming that “whiteness is wicked” cherry-pick the most damning aspects of people-with-less-melanin’s legacy? (p. 104) … “Yes, tragically, people who claimed the name of Christ were often perpetrators or spinelessly complicit in the evils of racism, a historic fact we must work to ensure has no place in our planet’s future. Yet if we’ve been taken in by the loudest narrative of our day, then we are missing out on a lot of beautiful true stories” (p. 105). 
  1. Is the definition of whiteness as wickedness unnecessarily inflammatory? (p. 105) … “If we think playing a semantic game of associating evil with a physical feature (which some have and others don’t) will not be used by fallen people to unleash hate and violence against people who have that physical feature, then we have made three lethal mistakes. First, we have underestimated human fallenness, the ease with which we can tribalize and turn on each other. Second, we have not learned the hard lessons of history. When has equating a physical feature that some have and others don’t ever resulted in anything but catastrophe? Third, we have made it much more difficult for the church to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’” (p. 106). 

In this chapter, Williams “tests” other prevailing assumptions about racism in American policing, income and housing disparities, and incarceration rates. In many cases, the facts reveal that factors other than racism lead to disparities. Williams quotes Jason Riley of the Manhattan Institute favorably: “Many people have convinced themselves that evidence of ongoing racial bias proves beyond any doubt that racism in America today remains the major barrier to black progress. Whether other factors play a bigger role is a question seldom asked, let alone investigated with any rigor. In fact, to even ask such a question is enough to earn the wrath of those who believe racism is an all-purpose explanation for bad black outcomes in America today” (p. 99). 

This chapter addresses some of the most controversial issues of today regarding race and disparities. Williams reminds us that as we seek to “do justice,” we must “test everything.” We cannot follow a narrative that will equate a physical feature with a mark of evil.

 

 

 

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