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The Gospel & Wokism

by Stephen Yuille on February 15, 2021

The Gospel & Wokism

I concluded my previous article, https://www.godforus.org/pastoral-theology/the-gospel-racism/, by affirming that all humans are created in God’s image and possess equal worth and dignity (Gen. 1:27). Although hostility has marked much of human history, God’s plan is to bring His people together in the body of Christ (Eph. 1:10; 2:14). The church ought to be a foretaste of heaven where people from every “tribe and language and people and nation” give glory to God (Rev. 5:9). For this reason, we celebrate ethnic diversity within the body of Christ, and we condemn the sin of racism by supporting all legitimate efforts to confront it. 

Having said that, I acknowledge that there has been a dramatic shift of late in much of the public discourse surrounding racism. It’s no coincidence that this shift has accompanied the ascendency of secularism in the West.

Simply put, secularism is a rejection of the Triune God as the source of all that is good, right, and true. It results in a deviation from the created order of unity in diversity and diversity in unity, which the Triune God has embedded in creation. Because it insists on diversity without unity, secularism has no place for objective truth. There’s no fixed point of reference to determine what we should believe or how we should behave. Moreover, there’s no basis for a commonly defined morality. Beliefs are simply the preferred opinions of a specific group and, therefore, all beliefs are equally legitimate (yet ultimately baseless). As diversity (without unity) rules within a secular society, sub-groups are pitted against sub-groups. Each group looks to blame the other for perceived grievances. This leads to a victim mentality, and the chaos gradually results in increased social breakdown.[1]

The Rise of SJM

This is what we’re currently witnessing in the West. Complicating matters, the Social Justice Movement (SJM) has stepped into the morass, championing the deconstruction of Western society. We can trace its historical development through three major shifts in thought.[2]

The first shift was modernism. “The cultural changes in Europe from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries were so dramatic that people began to see themselves in an entirely new era. They looked back on history now in three main stages – the ancient, the medieval, and the modern.”[3] The transition from the medieval to the modern began with the Renaissance. It marked a return to the sources and springs of antiquity, coupled with a greater emphasis on the individual. It was accompanied by a scientific revolution, beginning with Copernicus (1473–1543) and ending with Isaac Newton (1642–1727). “The full implications of the Renaissance were not realized, however, until the 1700s, when a new movement, identified with rationalist thinkers such as Voltaire, Kant, Locke, and Franklin, emerged … The movement understood itself to be the dawn of a new day after the long night of the Middle Ages. Its implication was that the age of superstition was passing, and human beings now could use the clear-headed guide of their own reason to test every proposition claiming truth.”[4] This final phase, the Enlightenment, was essentially a movement in science, theology, and philosophy that espoused freedom from God, freedom from authority, freedom from history, and freedom from evil. It was widely believed that human progress was guaranteed by means of the acquisition of objective truth via the twin pillars of scientific inquiry and human reason.

The second shift was postmodernism.[5] It was more of a mood than a movement, and it never gained much traction outside of academia. It began in the 1960s as a reaction against the supposed truths, freedoms, and certainties of modernism. It rejected all notions of “metanarratives” – cohesive explanations of the world. Instead, it espoused radical skepticism – the assertion that objective knowledge (even by means of scientific inquiry and human reason) is unattainable. In short, there is no absolute truth. There is, therefore, no objective relationship between words and meaning. Because there are no universal truth claims, reason, dialogue, and persuasion are nonsensical. There is no ultimate evidence, meaning all ideas, thoughts, and worldviews are plausible. Hence, morality is not found (via divine revelation), but made (via personal choice).

The third shift was applied postmodernism. Without consciously adopting postmodernism as an official worldview, many people in our day “apply” its basic tenets to their understanding of how society functions. This has resulted in two major assumptions that are now accepted wisdom within Western society. (1) There’s no such thing as objective truth; therefore, all truth claims are merely social constructs. This means that truth claims do not reflect an objective reality, but simply the values of a particular culture. They have no validity outside that culture. (2) Every society is organized, controlled, and governed, by the powerful. They determine what’s true, correct, and acceptable within their particular culture. They establish socio-political structures that perpetuate their influence. This means that all truth claims, political structures, economic mechanisms, educational institutions, etc., are inherently biased toward the self-interest of the powerful.

The Goal of SJM

The SJM assumes the above propositions (applied postmodernism) to be true and, therefore, champions the deconstruction of Western society. It maintains that the most powerful group in the West has been the white heterosexual male, who has ensured his dominance by means of two key mechanisms: (1) truth claims, and (2) socio-political structures. These two are, therefore, marred by (1) white supremacy, (2) heteronormativity, and (3) patriarchy. The “system” (e.g., political structures, economic practices, educational institutions, etc.) ensures that the white heterosexual male enjoys a position of privilege at the expense of all others.

The SJM’s explanation of Western society is now viewed by many as indisputable fact. They simply assume that our society is infected with patriarchy, racism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, etc. This ideology has birthed what is known as “identity politics” whereby people are now divided into groups based upon certain identity markers (e.g., gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, etc.). They are labeled “marginalized” and “oppressed.”[6]

Because Western society has been dominated by the white heterosexual male, there are three main “marginalized” and “oppressed” groups: (1) non-whites, (2) non-heterosexuals, and (3) non-males. The goal of the SJM is to identify and remove all the barriers to equality that confront these marginalized groups. (1) For non-males, the barrier is a system pervaded with patriarchy. Feminist Theory is the answer. It believes gender is rooted in the subjective expectations of society rather than in anything related to biological differences between men and women. (2) For non-heterosexuals, the barrier is a system pervaded with heteronormativity. Queer Theory is the answer. It has shifted society’s understanding of sexuality from binary (male and female) to spectrum. It has changed the perception of homosexuality from behaviour to identity, so that homosexuality is not what someone does, but is.[7] (3) For non-whites, the barrier is a system pervaded with white supremacy. Critical Race Theory is the answer. It maintains that race is a social construct meant to uphold white supremacy and white privilege.[8]

When it comes specifically to racism, what is the solution according to the SJM?[9]

Step #1: White people must admit their racism. To be white is to be racist. This does not mean white people are necessarily guilty of committing openly racist acts or uttering openly racist remarks. “Being good or bad is not relevant. Racism is a multilayered system embedded in our culture. All of us are socialized into the system of racism. Racism cannot be avoided. Whites have blind spots on racism, and I have blind spots on racism. Racism is complex, and I don’t have to understand every nuance of the feedback to validate that feedback. Whites are / I am unconsciously invested in racism. Bias is implicit and unconscious.”[10] In the West, racism is a system into which white people are born. It’s unavoidable because white people are raised, nurtured, educated and socialized in it. For this reason, all white people think and act (consciously or not) in racist ways. Only white people can be racist because only they can express their prejudice through social and institutional power.

Step #2: We must adopt “standpoint theory” – the rejection of individualism and objectivity.

Individualism: This is the notion that each of us is a unique individual. The powerful within Western society have maintained their influence, in part, by asserting that the individual stands apart from others, even those within the same identity group.

Objectivity: This is the notion that it is possible to be free of bias. The powerful within Western society have maintained their influence, in part, by asserting that barriers to success are common to all people and, therefore, a failure to flourish is the fault of the individual – unwise choices, corrupt character, poor work ethic, immoral behaviour, careless spending, family breakdown, etc.

These ideologies have perpetuated systemic racism in the West. “To challenge the ideologies of racism such as individualism and color blindness, we as white people must suspend our perception of ourselves as unique and/or outside race. Exploring our collective racial identity interrupts a key privilege of dominance – the ability to see oneself only as an individual.”[11] In other words, what we think, do, or say is irrelevant. We are “part” of an identity group that trumps our individuality. White people are, therefore, collectively responsible for the racism (past and present) inherent to their identity group (regardless of whether they have ever experienced a racist thought). Conversely, those who occupy the same “marginalized” identity group have the same experience of oppression (whether they realize it or not). The privileged are blinded by their privilege, but the oppressed are able to understand the thinking of the privileged as well as the experience of the oppressed.

Step #3. White people must increase their “racial consciousness” by submitting to the instruction of experts by reading books and attending seminars. This helps them to identify their racism (on the basis of their identity group), so that they can make atonement or restitution. They must accept any charges of racism made against them (by the “oppressed”) because it manifests itself in ways they cannot perceive. (In other words, they must take their word for it.) Their specific words and actions are irrelevant, and objective examples of racism are irrelevant. All that matters is how they are perceived by others (the marginalized). To challenge a charge of racism is to express “white fragility.” In sum, white people have but two options: (1) they admit they’re racist and fragile, or (2) they demonstrate they’re racist and fragile by denying they’re racist and fragile. And what of those who refuse to “bow down” to the SJM? They are unceremoniously “canceled.”

Conclusion

While I might agree with the SJM’s desire to confront racism, I strongly disagree with the movement’s assessment of what racism is, why it exists, and how it is remedied. At the heart of the SJM is an ideology (applied postmodernism) that is (ironically) racist, intolerant, authoritarian, manipulative, destructive, and fundamentally antithetical to biblical Christianity.

 

[1] For more on this discussion, see Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

[2] For an analysis of the advent of modernism and postmodernism, see David Wells, No Place for Truth; or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994); Don A. Carson, Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002); Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996). For a secular treatment, see Brian McHale, The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[3] Bradley P. Holt, Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1993), 83.

[4] Holt, Thirsty for God, 83.

[5] See the works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Francois Lyotard. These French theorists laid the foundation for the worldview known as postmodernism.

[6] For an in-depth analysis, see Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020).

[7] For more on this, see Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

[8] See Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York University Press, 2017); Barbara Applebaum, Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy (Lanham: Lexington Press, 2010); Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard to Talk to White People about Race (London: Allen Lane, 2018).

[9] I am indebted to Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, for their analysis.

[10] DiAngelo, White Fragility, 142.

[11] DiAngelo, White Fragility, 89.

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