There’s No Place for White Supremacy in the Church

Racism has been a hotly-debated topic for much of 2020. The murder of George Floyd earlier this year and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have prompted important discussions about race and justice across the Anglosphere.

Of particular focus is white supremacy—the belief that people of European descent are superior to other races. In pursuit of this, the spotlight has been cast on various white supremacist groups this year. But more commonly, the idea up for grabs is whether or not white supremacy is “baked into” Western society itself, and that we’re all somehow complicit.

These are very hot potatoes. Understandably, many shy away from the topic for fear of saying something unacceptable, and being accused of racism.

“Racism has been a hotly-debated topic for much of 2020.”

Christians are among those remaining quiet—maybe because the church already invites enough controversy for its views on sexuality, marriage and more. But in truth, race and racism should be important to Christians because God has a lot to say about them.

In fact, what God has to say about race is an advantage—not a disadvantage—for followers of Jesus. In the first chapter of Genesis, we see God creating human beings in his image. As the story continues, it becomes clear that all people who inhabit the earth are actually descendants of the first couple, Adam and Eve.

There are episodes of ethnic violence in the Old Testament, which were common throughout the ancient world and make any modern person rightly squeamish. But it doesn’t stay this way. Even though God’s promises of blessing and salvation were first made to the Jews, many non-Jewish people were welcomed into them—think Moses’ wife Zipporah, or Rahab, or Ruth.

“According to Scripture, there is only one race: the human race.”

Indeed, the lesson behind the book of Jonah is not just that a Gentile city repented, but that Israel’s too-often-forgotten calling was to be a “light to the Gentiles”—people just like the Ninevites.

Sadly, prejudices remained in place for the Jews, and hundreds of years later, Jesus found himself pushing up against these taboos when he crossed ethnic barriers. His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria and his parable of the Good Samaritan are well-known examples of this.

Jesus’ final command—popularly known as “the Great Commission”—was for his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, or all ethnos in the Greek.

The early church obeyed, spreading out across the Roman Empire and taking the good news to people of any background that would hear it. Later, in writing to the Galatians, the apostle Paul had to confront lingering prejudice by confirming that “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“From Genesis to Revelation, God is absolutely clear on how he views the different races of the world.”

There are many other affirmations of ethnic equality in the Bible, but consider just two more. The first is in Acts 17:26, where Paul is explaining the gospel to the people of Athens. He tells them that “From one man [God] created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.” This is a remarkable statement of equality.

Finally, in Revelation 7:9, we get a glimpse of what heaven will look like. In the words of John, “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.”

So from Genesis to Revelation, God is absolutely clear on how he views the different races of the world: all are equally precious because all have been made in his image. In fact, Christian theologians have often said that according to Scripture, there is only one race: the human race. Slowly, science is catching up with this.

“What sets Western nations apart is that they do not depend on a shared ethnicity, but instead a shared set of values.”

Some counter that in the past, Christians used the Bible to defend racist ideas and even slavery. While this is true, it reflects much less on what Christianity itself teaches and much more on the prejudices of past eras. In reality, people have used the Bible—like many other books—to defend countless terrible ideas.

What stands out in the history of slavery’s abolition is that it was a movement led mostly by evangelical Christians, notably William Wilberforce and the “Clapham Sect”. (Notice too that while slavery existed almost everywhere in the early modern world, it was the “Christian West” that abolished it first and then pressured other nations to do the same).

Based on the teachings of the Bible, and in light of how those teachings transformed the Western world, there simply is no place for white supremacy—either in the church, or in Western societies.

“Australia simply wouldn’t be what it is without ‘those who’ve come across the seas’.”

Consider that what sets Western nations apart is that they do not depend on a shared ethnicity, but instead a shared set of values. Historian Victor Davis Hanson explains:

The West, then, transcends its place of birth precisely because its ideas, although they were born in Europe, were uniquely and logically able to spread and to transcend historical ethnic, racial, and religious bonds… the logic of Western civilization was never predicated on blood-and-soil chauvinism.

I have many Australian friends who were born elsewhere, or who were born in Australia to migrant parents. They are just as Australian as I am. Australia simply wouldn’t be what it is without “those who’ve come across the seas,” as our national anthem attests.

“Each of us must guard against racism and other prejudices in our own hearts.”

While anyone can affirm racial equality, the Christian worldview gives us a concrete foundation for this: a God who created all of us in his image, and who sent his Son to redeem people from every tribe and nation.

It is a sad fact that racial prejudice can still be found in our societies. I don’t have any first-hand experience of this, but I know people who sadly do. While it’s easy to point the finger at others, we are all susceptible to “tribal” and divisive thinking, so each of us must guard against racism and other prejudices in our own hearts.

Ironically, in our present moment, to guard against racial prejudice is also to oppose the idea that all white people are complicit in racism. This idea—part of the newly-popular Critical Race Theory—is itself a racist concept, since it makes blanket judgments against people based on the colour of their skin.

The words of preacher and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr are no less relevant today than when he declared them from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

It’s up to all of us now to keep his dream alive.

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Coronavirus Backflips: Trusting the Science When the Science Keeps Changing

Science has a very trusted reputation—so much so that in recent years, “trust the science” and “the science is settled” have become fashionable phrases in policy-making and public debate.

Science deserves this reputation, given how dramatically the discoveries of modern science have transformed our lives for the better. Whether it’s the laws of motion, genetic heredity or thermodynamics, we rely on the findings of science constantly, and in ways we barely notice.

But what happens when the science that we trust and assume to be settled keeps changing?

“We rely on the findings of science constantly.”

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that the wearing of face masks by non-medical workers was unnecessary. Months later, they changed their stance to recommend the use of masks by the general public.

After Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, the drug came under heavy criticism, most notably by The Lancet journal—prompting global trials of it to be suspended. But soon after, data inconsistencies and claims of misconduct surfaced, causing the Lancet study to be retracted—and hydroxychloroquine trials to be resumed.

In the latest major backflip, the WHO has condemned lockdowns as a primary strategy for combating the spread of the virus, after originally recommending them.

“The problem is not so much “the science” as it is our understanding of what science is.”

Speaking on behalf of the WHO this week, Dr David Nabarro told world leaders to stop locking down their countries and economies, warning that the lockdowns already imposed may cause a doubling of world poverty and child malnutrition by next year.

What are we to make of all this?

To be sure, the WHO deserves its fair share of criticism. The peak global health body uncritically praised China for its pandemic response—particularly for its transparency and leadership—even as China silenced whistleblowers and concealed critical data about the severity of the virus.

But it’s also true that a global pandemic is by nature chaotic and unpredictable. We can’t expect science bodies—even the WHO—to perfectly collate incoming data about an ever-changing situation.

Scientism is not the same thing as science.

The problem is not so much “the science” as it is our understanding of what science is and how it works. When we call the latest recommendation from the WHO “science”, we subconsciously grant it the same authority as the law of gravity—a Newtonian discovery confirmed by centuries of further study.

Scientific findings can of course be confirmed quite rapidly, but the point is this: in times of upheaval like ours, it’s all too easy to cling to the latest “discovery”, only to later find out it needed more confirmation first. It is likewise very tempting to claim that an entire branch of science is settled, and that anyone who disagrees is a “science denier”—a concerning trend that we’re seeing in both the transgender and climate debates.

Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer observed that “there is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge”. In the same vein, American thinker and critic Leon Wieseltier has drawn a helpful distinction for us:

Scientism is not the same thing as science. Science is a blessing, but scientism is a curse. Science, I mean what practicing scientists actually do, is acutely and admirably aware of its limits, and humbly admits to the provisional character of its conclusions; but scientism is dogmatic, and peddles certainties. It is always at the ready with the solution to every problem, because it believes that the solution to every problem is a scientific one, and so it gives scientific answers to non-scientific questions. Owing to its preference for totalistic explanation, scientism transforms science into an ideology, which is of course a betrayal of the experimental and empirical spirit.

The scientific facts that are most solidly established, and that today’s research now takes for granted, are those that have been tried, tested, repeated, peer-reviewed and are yet to be falsified. This takes time, emotional detachment, and an environment free of political agendas—none of which have been available to us during this year’s pandemic.

Unfortunately, 2020 will go down as a year in which our trust in science took a hefty blow. Ironically this is not the fault of science, but rather our trust—our naive, frantic faux-certainty.

“Science is a blessing, but scientism is a curse.”

Since the time when modern science was born, we have lost something desperately important. Having shrugged off the Christian worldview that early scientists relied on, we are no longer certain that objective truth exists. As a result, by “the science” we can sometimes mean real, reliable discoveries—and other times, we might be referring to current fashions motived by money, politics or power, and embraced with religious fervour.

This is not progress.

We need to recover Christian beliefs like a real universe, true truth, and the human tendency for sin and error. This last one especially is key to viewing the latest scientific discoveries as we should: with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Like the early scientists, our best scientific discoveries today will be those that have been doubted until they can be doubted no longer. That’s how science is supposed to work after all.

God is God—Government is Not

I’ve noticed something, and I’m sure you have too. We’re facing a time of major cultural upheaval across the Western world. Divisions run deep, and the cultural rifts that have long sat silent beneath our feet are emerging in the light of COVID-19 and the U.S. election.

When the world around us starts to shake, we naturally feel around for something to hold on to. And in a secular age, one of the most obvious stabilising forces for us is politics. More than I can ever remember, we seem to be hoping for political solutions to our crises, and are forgetting the healthy limits of government.

With our tax dollars, governments provide important services that the private sector could never manage alone—from healthcare to policing to infrastructure and more. We need government. But we also need to resist the temptation to ask government for everything—and to protect us from everything.

Like the proverbial 40-year-old still living in his parents’ basement, it’s easy to expect our governments to meet every need that charities, businesses or we ourselves might have provided in a past age. We are especially at risk when we ask the government to save us from the consequences of our own unpredictable and unhealthy lifestyles.

We could go on outsourcing our needs to bigger budgets and more powerful bureaucrats, and in doing so, we would find short-term solutions to our problems. But we’d also build for ourselves a suffocating surveillance state and be tempting tyranny. Thomas Jefferson wisely warned that “a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

Last century, many nations responded to their times of cultural upheaval by turning to politics as an all-encompassing solution. But it ended in terrible bloodshed.

The scourges of fascism and communism seem like a mystery to us until we realise that their infamous leaders won the trust of the masses with grand promises. So great were their promises that the only way to fulfil them was for their nations to become totalitarian—to make every aspect of life the concern of government. As C.S. Lewis sagely warned,

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive … those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It’s not as though tyranny is just around the corner for us (though recent events in Victoria rightly have many Australians concerned). Still, for the health of our democracies and for our own headspace, we need to return to some basic truths.

The human race was made to need God. In the modern era, we have put God at a distance, or we have redefined him as a kind of impersonal force that isn’t too concerned with everyday human affairs.

The disappearance of faith from the West is why we are so tempted by political solutions today. In the absence of God, the State feels like the next best thing; the most powerful alternative to God that can fill the empty void above us.

But political solutions are only temporary—and they can be both divisive and dangerous.

We will always have to deal with politics and government. Even Jesus told us to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s—whether our taxes, or in a democratic age, our votes. But we have a higher hope than politics: the God who is there. Most important of all is that we render to God the things that are God’s.

Even as we live out our days in these unstable and earthly kingdoms, God invites us to find our stability in his unseen, eternal kingdom.

As Psalm 20 reminds us, “In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry. May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm… Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:1,7).

An eternal perspective has very practical benefits. It reminds us that the utopia we naturally long for is coming and therefore doesn’t need to be attempted down here. (This is a relief, given how many of our past attempts at it have ended in disaster). It is also a warning to would-be tyrants that they won’t escape judgment.

Faith in God also safeguards us from having our opinions assigned to us by “the powers that be”. If we are all made in God’s image, then each person has the freedom to form their own opinions, and the government has an obligation to protect that freedom.

Most important of all, knowing that we are citizens of heaven allows us to lift our eyes above the debates and divisions of the day and find our hope and security in God himself. C.S. Lewis had wisdom on this, too:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”