Here's some of my thoughts on the recent James White controversy.
I've been a big fan of James over the years. I really appreciated his KJV only Controversy book years ago. I used to tune in to his Dividing Line show a lot, and learned a lot from him. I've attended some of his debates, and met him personally at one (where he asked me and my friend to be his body guards lol). I hadn't however listened to James for a while, until I read his Facebook post last week about a youngster he saw crossing the road and rudely signalling a cop car. The post is now notorious, and its sparked a lot of debate. Here are my thoughts, but please bear in mind I'm from the UK, and so might not be understanding fully the complexities of race issues in the US:
Firstly, when I try to look at things from James' perspective:
1. I regard James as a brother in Christ, and I respect that he is an elder in his church.
2. I do not believe James intended to offend anyone with his post, especially not any black brothers and sisters.
3. I doubt James foresaw the shock that his post would cause (I myself was shocked when I read it, but I doubt James would have thought any of his supporters like myself would be).
4. I think James is concerned that some people think he's not allowed to speak on race issues because he's not experienced being black. James has since his post used the term 'ethnic gnosticism' to describe his critics. I remember hearing Voddie Baucham explain this term to James years ago. If I remember correctly, Voddie was referring to when you assume special knowledge that cannot be known without experiencing your cultural experience (at least that's how I understood it at the time). I was convicted when Voddie said this because I realised how I can sometimes assume that cross cultural gospel workers can't understand my experience of growing up on a council estate. So I do think the term 'cultural gnosticism' as Voddie explained it can be a useful category [if used carefully]. However, I haven't seen ethnic gnosticism in the critiques I've read and heard in the last week. Obviously, it could be that James has been referring to criticisms that I haven't seen. [I've since found the convo with Voddie, the term Ethnic Gnosticsm is used 38mins in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-VL1LVvgTs ]
5. I think James is concerned that when people speak of narrative and cultural lenses, that they are being influenced by liberalism. I do not think this is the case, but can understand where a misunderstanding could come from here. I actually think that a lot of James' critics are also concerned about liberalism.
6. I think James thinks a lot of his critics are condoning the boys behaviour, and he's reading in between the lines that his critics think disrespect to authority is not a sin if you're black. I haven't myself seen anyone condone his behaviour. I think where there has been some silence on his behaviour, its because people are seeing weightier matters to discuss.
Secondly, when I try to look at it from my black brothers' and sisters' perspective:
7. I think some felt that it was unfair to sum up a black teenager's life based on a few seconds observation coupled with statistics. Many people have experienced being pre-judged like this, and it hurts.
8. I think some readers wanted James to show more empathy to the boy, the kind of empathy they would expect from a church elder.
9. I think some readers felt James' statements were too simplistic. Whilst most would agree that the boy's actions were wrong, they also wanted James to acknowledge that there has been a long going relationship problem between law enforcement and African-Americans.
10. I think some readers felt betrayed. They've listened to James over the years. They've learned about the Bible, debate, and logic from James. Some have left their theological camp, and joined James' tribe. James' post shocked them, and when some tried to engage with James they felt he wouldn't listen. Some felt they were hearing straw man arguments etc. from the very man who taught them to not argue this way.
11. I think some also felt some of the things, that I felt from my white, underclass/council estate minority culture perspective below....
Thirdly, from my perspective:
12. My ears pricked up when James described the youth as 'black'. It's an adjective that is often used before something negative is said. It signalled to me that the post was about race. Later I was confused when James said that other people had made the post about race.
13. I was shocked that James would assume that this youth probably didn't know his father, and that he himself would probably father aborted children. I must admit, its been a long time since I studied statistics at A-level and at University, but I had a gut feeling that this wasn't a good way of handling statistics. I've also grown up being viewed as a statistic, and had hurtful words spoken over me. I really hope that boy didn't read that post. Side note: When I was 15, the police raided my house and as they wrecked it, I put NWA's F-the-Police on loud on my stereo, I had a lot of issues, but by the grace of God, I've been married 15 years, with four children, and I'm a pastor in a deprived area.
14. I felt like the tone of the post sounded judgmental. I wouldn't want to say it was, because firstly, I can't judge James' heart, and secondly, it can be difficult to read the tone of written text. I want to give James a charitable and generous reading, I want to hope the best for him (1 Cor 13). However, to me, it didn't sound like James was being that way with the boy. I know I've said much worse things than James wrote, so I'm not claiming moral superiority here. I do think however, James could have written his post differently, by outlining the sin, and at the same time showing love for the sinner, and even holding out the hope of the gospel.
15. James' comparison with his own youth seemed an unhelpful example. I often find myself comparing myself with others, but it's something I'm battling against. I'm not the standard, Jesus is, I fall short all the time (even when I think I'm not).
16. James' comparison with the good old days (for want of a better phrase) is problematic. Firstly, Total Depravity means that we should expect to see sin manifest in a multitude of different ways in different eras and cultures. It may well be that in James' day people weren't disrespecting Police as much, but there were still people sinning in a whole manner of ways [including segregated schools - depending on James' age]. In fact just a few years before James' youth, black people were being unjustly lynched. Secondly, whilst the apostle Paul critiqued both his own culture and others' cultures, we must do this very carefully, because we have blind-spots.
17. I usually avoid internet debates, but in this case I felt moved to speak. I believe the Scriptures encourage us to speak up for the oppressed, and to speak for truth. It grieves me to see how much pain some of my brothers and sisters have experienced over this post. I appreciate that to some this might seem strange, but there is a whole history of negative words being spoken that have dehumanised people made in the image of God. At the same time, I am also saddened that James must be feeling pain right now. Similar to what Jamar said on his podcast, I don't believe James intended to cause harm. The impact was felt, but the intention was most probably not to harm.
The way forward:
18. For those who are hurting, meditate on the Biblical truths that you're made in God's image (Gen 1), that God delights in you, rejoices over you with singing, and quieten's you with his love (Zeph 3). There's a time for being prophetic, but also a time for healing and thinking on whatsoever things are lovely (Phil 4). Tell God how you feel, cry out to him and know that he hears you.
19. Let's not see one another as the enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and flood but the devil. I think that most of us affected by this are 'in-Christ', so let's do everything possible to maintain the spirit of unity.
20. Let's examine our hearts. Most of us affected believe in justification by faith alone. This truth frees us up to not have to pretend we are more righteous than we are. Let's pray that God will search our hearts, and allow us to be honest with one another. Perhaps all of us have had some self-righteousness going on at some point in this debacle.
21. I think its helpful if we see that this is a teachable moment, a discussion rather than a debate. We will all make mistakes when it comes to talking about different cultures, and all have blindspots. Rather than scoring points against one another, let's view this as a discussion from which we can understand one another better. That means, not talking past one another, not using loaded terms like 'racist' and 'ethnic gnostic'. Instead wouldn't it be great if James White and Jamar Tisby could talk and listen to one another's concerns. They are both (to my knowledge) sound men, and I'm sure they would leave with a lot of common ground, and they could in turn inform us better.
22. For those of us who have been long time fans of James White, let's not sum him up based on one hot moment. Just like, its possible that youth was having the worst day of his life - and we shouldn't sum up his life based on that, let's also not sum up James based on that one blog post. Let's discuss it, but lets also remember James is a brother in Christ, who has fought valiantly for the faith for years, and taught many of us.
23. Let's pray for understanding. Let's spend more time praying about this than writing about it on social media. But let's still talk about it, this issue needs to be talked about, but let's back up our talking with prayer so that the devil won't outwit us, and so that God will be glorified in this situation.
24. Let's pray for this young boy. Let's pray that he would come to know God as his heavenly father (if he doesn't already).
25. Let's pray for racial unity in America, and for a more multi ethnic church in the USA. And please remember us in the UK, we badly need more race and class equality in the church.