A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see the movie “The Help.” I was outraged that human beings were treated with such disdain. I felt like I wanted to go out and march on Selma or something. But, of course, that was back in the 50’s and 60’s long before my birth. I praise the Lord that such wicked segregation does not exist today. We live in a much more enlightened time today. So, the very next day I went off to worship at my overwhelmingly white church followed by a week of work at my overwhelming white Christian school.
I couldn’t help but think of this experience when I finished reading the book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper. Of course, I am always eager to read anything by Piper. I knew it would be about race, and I was ok with that. After all, I am against racism. I have no problem reading about the sins of others… But the book proved to be façade-shattering from the very first chapter. As Piper describes his early childhood, he shocked me with this statement,
John Piper was a racist
I was, in those years, manifestly racist. As a child and a teenager my attitudes and actions assumed the superiority of my race in almost every way without knowing or wanting to know anybody who was black, except Lucy. Lucy came to our house on Saturdays to help my mother clean. I liked Lucy, but the whole structure of the relationship was demeaning. Those who defend the noble spirit of Southern slaveholders by pointing to how nice they were to their slaves, and how deep the affections were, and how they even attended each other’s personal celebrations, seem to be naïve about what makes a relationship degrading. No, she was not a slave. But the point still stands. Of course, we were nice. Of course, we loved Lucy. Of course, she was invited to my sister’s wedding. As long as she and her family ‘knew their place.’ (p. 33-34)
John Piper was a racist? Really? Yes. I think the phrase “naïve about what makes a relationship degrading” is the key in all of this. We who are in the majority (as opposed to being in the “minority”) often are guilty of just not thinking about race issues.
The majority culture (which for a little while longer is still white) has the luxury of being oblivious to race (which would change in an instant, if we moved to Nigeria). But for minority peoples, race-related issues are a persistent part of consciousness. If these issues are silently ignored in our relationships, the resulting harmony will be shallow and fragile. That is why I am dealing with them in this book. (p. 72)
More than “being nice”
As long as we outwardly treat people of a different skin color nicely, we think we are covered. However, Scripture calls to much higher action. The glory of God will be magnified as people from every tribe, kindred and nation are brought together as one through the cross of Christ. Christ’s redemptive mission was to bring people into the kingdom who once were strangers and aliens. The call for racial reconciliation is more than merely treating people nicely, it is a gospel-driven pursuit that calls for intentional fellowship and burden-bearing. Bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ, requires sensitivity and awareness – not just “being nice.”
Piper leaves no stone unturned here. Not only does he address the problems of structural racism, but he also takes on racist stereotypes being portrayed by thugs and hip-hop moguls who do nothing than promote a culture of anti-intellectualism, immorality and irresponsibility. He makes an excellent point asking what good was it to fight against segregated schools in favor of equal education opportunities if modern African Americans are refusing to learn?
But before we get too focused on these obvious sins, Piper reminds us,
In this progressing collapse of the last forty years, there can be no white or black finger-pointing. We have fallen together. And we who are white should be as keenly aware of the peculiarly white corruption. For example, in the months leading up to the writing of this book, the news has been full of several enormous financial fraud cases that have ruined hundreds of people and hurt thousands. The faces of these swindlers are white. In the last month, two more stories have been in the news of young killers mowing down students in school and random townspeople. What color do I expect to see on the television? A sullen, pale, white face in a dark coat. And together with every other race, whites are killing their babies and wallowing in their porn and taking their illegal drugs and leaving their wives and having babies without marriage. The difference is that when you develop patterns of sin in the majority race, they have no racial connotation. Since majority people don’t think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It’s just the way it’s done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color. (p. 67)
An absolute must-read section is found in the chapters in which each of the five points of Calvinism are shown to actually lead toward racial reconciliation. In other words, reformed theology does not lead to racism but toward a global unity in Christ.
Toward the end of the book, Piper takes on two very controversial topics: interracial marriage and the curse on Ham that supposedly ensured black slavery. I can recall hearing both of these arguments many times growing up and even in college.
Action not apathy
I have to share one more quote, my favorite in the entire book. The context is a call to action, not merely a tolerant apathy toward these issues. Piper says,
[Apathy] is the inability to be shocked into action by the steady-state lostness and suffering of the world. It is the emptiness that comes from thinking of godliness as the avoidance of doing bad things instead of the aggressive pursuit of doing good things. If that were God’s intention for the godliness of his people, why would Paul say, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12)? People who stay at home and watch clean videos don’t get persecuted. Godliness must mean something more public, more aggressively good. In fact, the aim of the gospel is the creation of people who are passionate for doing good rather than settling for the passionless avoidance of evil. “[Christ] gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). The gospel produces people who are created for good works (Eph.2:10), and have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), and are rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:18), and present a model of good works (Titus 2:7), and devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:8, 14), and stir each other up to good works (Heb. 10:24).” (p.101)
By time I finished the last chapter, my heart was convicted. I saw within myself a racism that had been covered over by shallow excuses and ignorant denials. God used this book to reveal many things I simply had not thought about before—simply because I never bothered to. I never harbored hate toward those of another ethnicity (and by the way, the discussion in this book about race as opposed to ethnicity is fascinating), but I never bothered to give much thought to any other race but my own. That is selfish, unloving, and—dare I say it—racist.
This short review doesn’t even scratch the surface of the issues covered in this book. But I hope these few words stir up a curiosity and a desire to want to read more and delve into the depths of the issues raised in this book.