Rick Patrick, Pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Alabama
Executive Director, Connect 316
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. —Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963
This line is perhaps the most famous sentence ever spoken by any American. It is remarkably easy to parse and virtually impossible to misconstrue—a simple contrast between an undesirable option and a preferred one. King’s dream was that his children would not be judged by their skin color but by their character content. Presumably, he would also extend this same dream to all the other children of the world, regardless of their skin colors. The principle is clear. People are not to be judged by the color of their skin.
Unfortunately, King’s preferred approach is not merely being ignored today. It is actively being reversed, even in venues where his own legacy is celebrated. Consider this statement by Thabiti Anyabwile (Thah-BEE-tee Ahn-YAH-bwee-lay) in The Gospel Coalition article he wrote dated April 4, 2018:
My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.
No, we cannot start there at all, for neither me nor my parents nor my grandparents had anything to do with the murder of MLK. However, the fact that Anyabwile placed the word “white” between “My” and “neighbors” means that he is judging me and my parents and my grandparents for the color of our skin rather than the content of our non-murderous character—precisely the opposite approach from the one envisioned by MLK.
Skin Color Judgment and Societal Guilt
Thabiti Anyabwile’s first error was actually introduced earlier in his article when he wrote:
I’m saying the entire society killed Dr. King. This society had been slowly killing him all along.
By allegorizing murder, Anyabwile pushes it from its literal and individual sense into a metaphorical and societal sense. The problem with this approach is that when sin is dealt with individually, there is both a legal punishment leading to temporary rehabilitation on earth, and a spiritual confession leading to eternal forgiveness in heaven. Sin can be dealt with when it is specific and personal. Cleansing and restoration follow. Bitterness does not fester.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vague sins of society. These can be held over the heads of a group of people collectively with no recourse forever. As long as society remains unforgiven, we are left with the impression that we must repeat our confession year after year in an endless and unhealthy pattern of guilt and condemnation, for which, seemingly, not even the blood of Jesus is sufficient to atone and expunge. (I am, of course, speaking hypothetically and hyperbolically. I believe the blood of Jesus has indeed atoned for all the sins of all the people in all the world, and if anyone applies His atonement to their sins by faith, they will be completely expunged.)
If it were not possible for Jesus to forgive society, then we would have no hope at all. But because He can forgive us, we do have hope. All we must do is walk in the forgiveness that Jesus offers once we have sincerely confessed our racist sin, at which point he removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. He remembers it no more. We receive His forgiveness and walk free as His children with a clear conscience moving forward to walk in the light.
Both Philosophies Seek Racial Reconciliation
Perhaps the most insidious assumption by those advocating the Skin Color Approach is that those of us favoring the Character Content Approach are somehow in favor of racism. Just because a person has a problem with the idea of white privilege and white guilt does not mean that they favor racism. They simply have a different method for dealing with racism than those embracing the Skin Color Approach.
One of the reasons racism is such a complex issue is that there are so many different skin colors involved. According to the United States Census Bureau, the basic ethnic breakdown of America is pictured below. Clearly, racial reconciliation is far more complicated than the struggle of African Americans alone. For that matter, even among those classified as White Americans, there are profoundly significant differences in terms of social class, family structure, wealth, and educational opportunities, creating an entire spectrum of privilege categories and making it impossible to stereotype individuals by skin color.
To illustrate the fact that the Skin Color crowd launches accusations against the Character Content crowd, consider this remark by Dwight McKissic in an SBC Voices article addressing what he refers to as a “looming civil war.”
Yet, there is an underbelly, subterranean, disagreeable, element in SBC life that view the MLK50 as “race-baiting,” “cultural Marxism” advocacy; and a “social justice warriors” convocation.
Granted, we have a different philosophy than McKissic when it comes to dealing with racial reconciliation. We certainly disagree, but this does not mean we are necessarily disagreeable—and all that nonsense about underbellies and subterranean elements merely amounts to name calling.
Character Content Judgment Favors Color Blindness
Those of us favoring the Character Content Judgment over against Skin Color Judgment are offended by the assigning of “guilt” and “privilege” on the basis of skin color alone. In other words, there can be no such thing as white, brown, black, yellow or red guilt or privilege, at least not in the world envisioned by MLK where we do not judge people on the color of their skin but on the content of their character.
If skin color does not lead to societal privilege, then what does? A strong two-parent family. Decent health care. Good work habits. Educational goals. Learning the soft job skills of showing up on time, properly dressed, with a good and helpful attitude. One does not get all of these things by being white, for many white people do not have them at all. Consider the following infographic from the National Review, which demonstrates that family structure is a better predictor of privilege than skin color.
Another illustration clearly reveals that Character Content is better than Skin Color in judging that which produces privilege. Consider for a moment the four children of Denzel Washington or the one daughter of Serena Williams. These children are more privileged than my own two sons, at least based on nearly every measure of societal advantage—economic class, access to the finest health care money can buy, educational opportunities, professional contacts to help launch their careers, or just about any other factor, with the possible exception of moral and spiritual formation. Incidentally, I am okay with the children of these accomplished celebrities having more privileges than my own children. Their parents have earned the right to afford them these privileges through their hard work, determination, and character. To put it bluntly, Denzel can act and Serena can play tennis far better than I can preach! If their children learn more in private schools than mine did in public schools, so be it.
My point is that privilege does not join itself to skin color. It is a meritocracy that joins itself to character.
Those of us who favor the Character Content Approach believe that color blindness actually helps us avoid picking at the scab of racism. During times when our nation constantly focuses on skin color (the sixties, the Obama Administration) we observe that things actually grow worse. But during times when our nation tends to move beyond this subject (the eighties, the George W. Bush Administration) we observe that things actually get better. No one explains this concept of refusing to focus on skin color better than Morgan Freeman:
Conclusion—Guilt Removal a Gospel Issue
In this brief essay, we have focused upon the great vision set forth by Martin Luther King, Jr., a vision challenging us not to judge one another on the basis of our skin color. So let us not have White This or Brown That or Black Something Else. Let us simply be Americans. May our character do the talking.
Dak Prescott is now my favorite NFL Quarterback. It used to be Tony Romo. Neither selection had anything to do with the color of their skin. In the 1996 movie version of Evita, I thought Antonio Banderas had an even stronger performance than Madonna. Again, I’m not basing that on skin color. This summer, I am going on a North American mission trip to work with a predominantly Chinese Southern Baptist Church in the Northwest. But I am certainly open to ministry among Native Americans. Skin color is like eye color, hair color, and body type. Those of us in the human race have all kinds of shapes and sizes and colors. But we just don’t judge people on the externals.
In the final analysis, my chief problem with White Guilt is not really the “White” part but the “Guilt” part. Biblically and theologically, once we confess our sin, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) It is simply unhealthy for a Christian to go back and confess the very same sin over and over and over again. He or she needs to accept the forgiveness of Jesus and move on with their life—freed from the load of their guilt and completely forgiven for their sin.
And while we are on the subject of God’s total and complete forgiveness of the racism in our past, there is frankly no need for us to confess the very same sin every year on the second week in June—or any other time. It is beginning to feel like we’re saying Jesus wasn’t sufficient to forgive us all those other times. Has Jesus really forgiven us of our racist past? Has He truly set us free? Is there now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Is the sin of racism within the power of Jesus to remove our guilt and shame? Is the red blood of a brown man 2000 years ago sufficient to cover the sins of this white man? If so, then let’s follow the advice of Morgan Freeman and “stop talking about it.” Stop talking about skin color. Start talking about character content.
The best way to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., is to embrace the vision of America he so eloquently challenged us to establish.
To SBC Pastors & Dr. Russell Moore:
I am a born-again Christian, Conservative, Black attender of a White, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Church in Louisiana. In fact, I not only attend, I also work there and I am very concerned about the narrative that I’m hearing from our ERLC leadership. I am absolutely appalled by the comments made by Dr. Russell Moore concerning racism within the White Evangelical churches.
I, and many other Black congregants, attend a predominately White, Southern Baptist Evangelical Church. We attend there because we are free to do so, we’ve been welcomed, and we’re seen and treated as brothers and sisters in Christ. I truly believe that I could attend any White Evangelical church and be welcomed. However, there are born again Black believers who choose to attend Black evangelical churches and worship within their culture and they are free to do so. We are exercising our freedom to choose. We are not commodities to be bargained with or exploited or used to promote an agenda or boost quotas.
White churches are not advocating racism but Dr. Moore is. He is fueling racial tensions. I view his comments as divisive and antagonistic. His words do not promote unity!
Please, let it be known that Dr. Moore does not speak for me or other Black Christians who believe that great strides and fearless efforts have been made by many throughout the years to abolish racism such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham and many others.
It is a sad day when a leader such as Dr. Moore uses his position to wreak verbal havoc in our churches and assists in causing unrest in our society and it’s even sadder if we continue to let him do so. This is not the first time he has verbally assaulted those who do not agree with him. During the presidential election, he did the same and I am totally against anyone, especially a leader in our SBC, who sows discord among the brethren.
This matter deeply concerns and disturbs me!
A sister to all born again believers,
Rick Patrick, Pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Alabama
Executive Director, Connect 316
Publisher, SBC Today
Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently wrote an ARTICLE expressing his concern over things “being said and written” about SBC Presidential nominee J.D. Greear. Akin’s timely word provides the perfect opportunity for the leadership of SBC Today to affirm the sentiments Akin so eloquently articulated. We join Danny Akin in his desire to set the record straight and we call for all Southern Baptists to exercise brotherly love and Christ-like honesty in this election season.
Appreciation for Both Nominees
Like Danny Akin, we regard both J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill as brothers in Christ. We too are extremely grateful for their ministries. We have nothing negative or unkind to say about either one of them—which is to say that we have nothing personally against them. This does not, of course, preclude the fact that we tend to align more favorably with one candidate’s platform than another’s. Frankly, we believe the same could be said for Dr. Akin. But apart from the positions of each nominee on the issues, when it comes to the men themselves, we are extremely grateful for them.
Affirmation of Truthful and Accurate Information
Like Danny Akin, SBC Today believes it is important that we have accurate and truthful information about the nominees. We agree with Dr. Akin that misinformation is never a good thing. Thus, we unequivocally join him in denouncing anyone, anywhere, who is lying about J.D. Greear, or for that matter, Ken Hemphill. Whoever they are, wherever they are, we encourage them to stop.
A Better Way—Verbatim Quotations and News Story Citations
Frankly, we wish more of the speakers and writers Akin addressed in his article would have adopted our own approach at SBC Today. As a matter of fact, it is a practical impossibility for our recently published Voter Guide to have been less than 100% accurate and truthful. Why? Because our entries were themselves nothing other than statements of verifiable facts. Seven of the eight entries were verbatim quotes by the nominees. The remaining entry cited two different Baptist newspapers that printed statistics one can easily verify against denominational records. Everything, and I mean every single thing, in our Voter Guide is 100% true and accurate. There is simply no room for lying when one’s philosophy is: “Here is exactly what this person has said about this issue and here is exactly what has been reported in the news.”
Vague Accusations Demonstrate the Importance of Including Facts
Unfortunately, we are left to wonder which speakers and writers Dr. Akin had in mind when he wrote his article. By choosing not to include these facts in his report, Dr. Akin rendered it impossible for us to verify his claim that people are saying and writing the things he claims they are saying and writing. Fact checking becomes impossible when accusations are in the form of such vague generalizations rather than the kind of quotes with citations mentioned in the section above discussing our Voter Guide.
Coincidental Publication of Voter Guide and Article on Same Day
In all likelihood, both Dr. Akin’s piece and our Voter Guide were already in the process of development and were being produced quite independently of each other. However, because of the mutual posting date, some have wondered if Dr. Akin’s remarks might have been somehow related to our Voter Guide. This is doubtful. The SBC Today Voter Guide posted early Monday morning, while Akin’s article was posted by The Biblical Recorder at 10:00 AM. This would seem to be an extremely hasty response time.
Comparing Dr. Akin’s Three Alleged Accusations with our Voter Guide
The biggest reason I do not believe Dr. Akin was referring to our Voter Guide is that he does not specifically address the issues we actually raised in the Guide. He raises a few similar issues and argues against claims we never made, which is why I believe he must be talking about someone else. Consider his three primary areas of concern.
DANNY AKIN: Some are saying that Greear neglects and is even dismissive about the work of our state conventions. To rebut this alleged accusation, Dr. Akin mentions Greear’s support for the North Carolina Convention.
VOTER GUIDE: Neither the word “neglects” nor the word “dismissive” can be found in the Voter Guide. The only entry that remotely relates to this comment does not even discuss Greear’s support for the North Carolina Convention. In fact, North Carolina is only mentioned one time in the Voter Guide, and it is in the Greear title section. It is true that the first entry does touch on the tension between the SBC and the state conventions and associations as they compete for Cooperative Program support. This is a general discussion in which Greear mentions that “so much of what is given to the CP stays in the states” and “I don’t think there’s any question that some of the institutions must cease to function…” These statements cannot be lies. They represent Greear’s own words and were cited from Greear’s own website. While nothing was mentioned in the Voter Guide about Greear lacking any support for North Carolina, his view of the tension between associations, states and the SBC for CP dollars, a major issue in the GCR Agenda, was clearly addressed, in Greear’s own words, and with 100% accuracy.
DANNY AKIN: Some are saying The Summit Church, where J.D. serves as pastor, does not support well the financial work of our state convention and the SBC at large. To rebut this alleged accusation, Dr. Akin mentions Greear’s Cooperative Program dollar amounts over the past two years, along with his Great Commission Giving percentage, a much maligned percentage metric that many state conventions do not even recognize as being cooperative, since it credits churches for doing their work in a neo-societal fashion.
VOTER GUIDE: The Voter Guide never even mentions dollars. It does not even contain a dollar sign. The Bible teaches Jesus cares about percentages. The widow’s two mites represented more than all the rich people were giving. She gave 100% and that’s what Jesus wants us to focus upon. Great Commission Giving is never mentioned in the Voter Guide. Many Southern Baptists do not even recognize this metric. So it would be simply inaccurate for anyone to claim that we were stating Greear “does not support well the financial work of our state convention and the SBC at large” in terms of overall dollar amounts. This claim was not made in the Voter Guide. However, the seventh entry of the guide did cite the fact that in 2016-2017, Greear’s church donated 2.4% of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. In the same time period, Hemphill’s church donated 12.2% of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. These giving records are described as percentages, the way Jesus likes us to do it. The percentages quoted are 100% true and accurate.
DANNY AKIN: Some are saying Greear is a Calvinist, and therefore he would lead the SBC to be anti-evangelistic and anti-missionary. To rebut this alleged accusation, Dr. Akin cites Greear’s evangelistic record and his antinomist, divine mystery perspective. Helpfully, Dr. Akin declares that the two of them share the exact position on soteriology. I have reason to believe this makes them both Amyraldists, or Four Point Calvinists, a form of Calvinism generally disaffirming Limited Atonement but accepting the other points.
VOTER GUIDE: The Voter Guide never suggests anything about Greear being anti-evangelistic or anti-missionary. Neither these words nor these thoughts are present in the guide in any form. This is yet another place where one can only wish Dr. Akin would have named the speakers and writers he claimed were making the false statements. We could join him in condemning them. As for Greear’s Calvinism, the Voter Guide quotes Greear, accurately, as stating, “I’ll probably take whatever side you are not.” This is frankly consistent with the middle of the road, antinomist, divine mystery approach Akins described. The Voter Guide also cited Jared Wilson of The Gospel Coalition, who included both Greear and Akin among the 125 Most Influential Leaders in the Gospel-Centered Movement, also described as Young, Restless and Reformed. Anyone familiar with the pastors and theologians on this list will immediately recognize it to be a list of Four Point and Five Point Calvinists.
Concluding Observations Regarding Truthfulness and Campaigns
While we agree with Dr. Akin regarding the need for complete honesty in SBC Presidential election discussions, we do wish his alleged accusations had consisted of more factual information in the form of names, dates, and direct quotes. When a charge has never really been specifically presented, it is difficult to fact check and impossible to rebut. We also wish Dr. Akin had not transitioned away from addressing concerns with people he claimed were saying and writing untrue things, and toward the action of presenting a list of personal endorsements for his favorite candidate. That was not setting the record straight. It was campaigning. Finally, we wish Dr. Akin had not put himself in a position where he had a conflict of interest. When he actively supports a candidate, he is pushing for the election of the person who will appoint the people who will appoint the people who will appoint his immediate supervisors. Granted, it’s a bit indirect, but there is a conflict of interest there.
Having said that, we generally stand in agreement with Dr. Akin, pleading for the sharing of honest and accurate information as Southern Baptists make their selection in this year’s SBC Presidential race.