This article's headline reveals two possibilities. I am either so blind to my place in life as a straight white man that I cannot see how my race and religious beliefs have become completely intertwined (or intersecting in the current woke-speak), or I see perfectly well, but I just disagree with the premise. That I am even asking the question means that either I am really stupid or that the premise (i.e. Christian virtues and “White” culture are synonymous) is absurd and I am willing to say so. But the question needs to be asked because we are now reckoning with Western Civilization as a whole as our culture’s foundational principles have come under intense scrutiny in recent months. So it is important that we ask what are those principles? Is our society worth preserving? Is it time to start it over on a different foundation?
After all, among a certain subset of Americans, there is the contention that “White” or European culture, by which they really mean Christian culture, is the bedrock of the American experience. And because America’s Forebears gave us slavery, our nation and its culture are seen as hopelessly racist, and thus our culture was never worth building in the first place. Some have gone as far as to say that when it comes to our culture, it is time to knock it all down - literally, in the case of monuments. If the America and its culture is and was, from its inception, wholly rotten, then like a bit of cancer, we must identify it and root it out; as well as some healthy surrounding tissue for good measure. However, before all that it would be helpful to definewhat it means to be “White” or European or Christian in the first place.
A Suitable Definition of "White"?
Recently a poster was created and promoted by the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), but which was eventually taken down. The poster sought to identify certain innate aspects of the “White” culture that has led to all our nation’s problems and presumably should no longer be normative. Besides being a prime example of the kind of racism I was taught to avoid - stereotyping anyone based on their ethnicity, even if in a complimentary way - the characteristics listed on that poster could also describe any number of ethnicities. Some of those characteristics, I would argue, are virtuous by their very nature. In other words, while we as individuals are all different and bring many different gifts to the table, it should concern us that any ethnicity can be written off because their way of being is seen as harmful.
Here are a few of the “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture in the United States”that are listed on this poster:
- “The nuclear family: father mother, 2.3 children is the ideal social unit”
- “Objective, rational linear thinking”
- “The primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition”
- “Protestant Work Ethic: Work before play”
- “Religion: Christianity is the norm”
- “Respect authority”
- “Delayed gratification”
- “Protect property and entitlements”
- “Be polite”
There is so much that could be said with all of this. First of all, while I admit that I am cherry-picking the best examples of those aspects that directly tie into Christian values or virtues, it is worth noting that not only do those critiques strike me as things that are not bad, but they are firmly situated in the Christian ethic. To attack them or write them off as merely being an aspect of “whiteness” seems utterly dismissive and unhelpful, if not revolutionary.
Furthermore, many of the critiques on that poster, that I didn't mention above, would also be the kind of critiques that a Christian would make themselves. For example, Christians would agree with the museum that to “win at all costs” is wrong, that a “woman’s beauty based on blonde, thin ‘Barbie-like’ image” is wrong, that “wealth equals worth” is horribly wrong, and that “rugged individualism” can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Indeed, any virtue can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, and end up becoming a vice. So not everything that was said on the now-infamous poster was wrong, however many whites and Christians have and still do criticize those same qualities or behaviors. It is also factually wrong and slanderous to suggest a uniformity of belief among all whites that hold up blonde women as the ultimate prize, to be on time, to be Christian or to have a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife. How is this not racist? More importantly, how is it helpful?
At the Root of All This is a Faulty Premise
But this whole conversation troubles me not because I seek to impose white culture onto blacks, but because some of the poster's critiques contains several explicit mentions of Christianity itself. As I said in a recent sermon, Jesus and His Church are currently in the process of being cancelled, both on the Covid-19 front and in light of the current and ongoing attacks on Western Civilization. We are either “non-essential” dangerous gathering places amid a pandemic or we are the root cause of racism. We are routinely described as an imperialistic force that has brought so much evil into the world, and now it is time for us to go. Well, I disagree.
First of all, virtues are virtues regardless of the ethnicity that practices them. The same is true for vices. Christianity, whether through description or prescription commends the following virtues, and I cannot think of any good reason that any Christian (or any other person for that matter) should not make them a habit.
- “…in humility count others more significant than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3)
- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
- “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
- “Honor your father and mother.” (Exodus 20)
- “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20)
All of these teachings are embedded in the foundations of the very “way of life” that the NMAAHC poster described as being “white” and racist. And yet, I unapologetically claim that any culture or ethnicity would benefit from following God’s Word and seeking these virtues, because all men and women are created in God’s image.
Secondly, where Christianity has flourished, so have these virtues, as has a critical voice against excess. Around the world, Christians who are not white, believe that idleness is a sin, that being polite is part of following Jesus, and that authority should be respected. That alone makes this poster not just an attack on “whiteness” (if there is such a thing), but on the very kind of world that Christianity produces. After all, do we really want a world that is the opposite of, and more importantly extols everything on that poster: non-rational thinking, a destroyed nuclear family, idleness, rudeness, play before work, etc.?
Finally, an attack on “whiteness” is in fact and attack rationality itself. Did you know that Western science and math are being rejected because they are considered products of white or European culture? Math is now called racist. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of flat-Earthers becoming en vogue. I never thought I would see the day where “objective, rational linear thinking” would not be valued. True, an extreme version of rational thinking, i.e. a cold, unfeeling carelessness, is also not ideal. But God Himself created logic and order; we live in an ordered world governed by orderly laws of nature. To reject them is to ultimately reject the God who created them. This has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin and everything to do with whether logic and reason are objective or not.
Defending the Truth is No Longer Enough
Now, perhaps I should just ignore this and move on. After all, the NMAAHC has removed the poster after considerable pushback. But the re-thinking of Western Civilization and Christianity's role in it, is not at its nadir; it is only the beginning. Part of our apologetic as Christians now is not just defending the existence of God, the resurrection, and the design of the universe, it is also our virtues and our values which are increasingly seen as fundamentally flawed.
If we are truly in the midst of a revolution, then it will not be enough to defend a political or economic way of life. If virtues are the foundation of a civilization and if our Christian virtues are seen as harmful to our own civilization, then we will have to defend both the truth claims of Christianity and the world it creates. We must do so in love or else we will mock our own virtues, but do so we must! Because the opening shots of this revolution were not fired with this poster; they were fired decades ago. Only now are we seeing a vocal enough majority who is willing to say that your faith is part of the problem and it must be destroyed to root out the cancers it is created.
Photo Credit- KVI.com