Friday, March 15, 2013

Black, Tan, and Mad All Over

Does Doug Wilson Need 
Sensitivity Training?

Doug Wilson

Evidence of the triumph of “political correctness” (which is about much more than politics) is that one must first establish his bona fides to say anything about race and that even doing so does not matter much if one does not say the right thing.
Here is an attempt to establish my own bona fides:
  • I grew up in the segregated South. The year 1962, when I entered Pensacola High, was the year the school was integrated, as I recall, by three students, one male and two females. I didn't like it, though it affected me not at all.
  • I was at Belhaven College in the spring of 1966, when the Billy Graham film The Restless Ones was shown at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. On a Sunday afternoon a white male Belhaven student escorted a black female, who was there to see the movie, into the Coliseum. This provoked a great uproar in the men’s dorm which required a coach to come and settle things down. As I recall, I was on the side of the “good guys” on that on that one.
  • When I was a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, because of the initiatives of fellow student, George Hunsberger, I spent the summers of 1970 and 1971 working for the Rev. Bill Jones at the all black Faith Presbyterian Church. I worked primarily with the kids, but I also got to preach one Sunday when Mr. Jones was away.
  • When I was a campus minister at the University of Southern Mississippi, our group included a strong contingent of black students, two of whom served on our core group. When a black and a white student began to date (they eventually married), I refused under strong pressure to condemn or to intervene to try to end the relationship. These decisions/actions were not without significant cost.
  • While serving churches in Hyattsville, MD, Penn Hills, PA, and Huntsville, AL, I ministered to and with black members and (I know how this sounds) had blacks among my friends.

The experiences of my generation make me a little less than impressed by younger generation of ministers who did not pay such dues as we paid but who talk about "sensitivity" and work for “racial reconciliation.” Would they have done the hard things then that are relatively easy today?

Now, I want to say a few things about the uproar occasioned by the attention given to Doug Wilson’s Black and Tan: Essays and excursions on slavery, culture war, and Scripture in America h in particular a column I read at the Reformed African American Network.

I am not a Doug Wilson fan. He and I are in different Reformed camps. I am not a theonomist, not a federal visionist, not a world and life viewist. I do appreciate some of his columns, which I find clever, though I do not go out of my way to read them.

Brian Lorrits in a column quoted in part at the RAAN WebPages has written about the book:
Rather, I was moved in great sorrow over the extreme insensitivity of not just a Christian, but a well known pastor whom God has allowed to have a national platform, speaking into the lives of many.
I can have a measure of understanding of and sympathy for the feelings Mr. Lorrits experienced when he read Wilson’s book. But I am troubled by the complaint about Wilson’s “extreme insensitivity.” Wilson has obviously thought about “slavery, culture war, and Scripture.” He then wrote a book. Is he not allowed to think what he thinks and to write what he writes? 

Should he out of “sensitivity” not have published his book? We are not talking here about personal conversation where all of us out of courtesy or a desire to avoid unpleasantness refrain from talking about certain subjects with others. Nor are we talking about the paranoid racist diatribe of a kook. We are talking about a book by man who writes rationally and reasonably. Anyone who wishes has every right to disagree with and refute Wilson. But to expect people not to publish books out of sensitivity is sensitivity carried way too far.

Mr. Loritts also writes:
He may want to engage me in an intellectual debate over how evil the institution of slavery actually was and whether or not the atrocities I just cited were the norm, but that’s not my point. Let’s say he’s right, and that we've been fed a bunch of lies, that slavery wasn't as bad as we've been told. Okay, you've got the corner marked on truth (which I don’t believe), but you may be cognitively right, yet emotionally wrong at the same time. Any husband who’s been married for any period of time knows this. You can win and lose the argument all at once. As one who’s won his share of debates with his wife, I can tell you that lawyer mode doesn't work too well in marriage, because what Lorie needs to feel is that I care for her.
What does it mean to be “cognitively correct, yet emotionally wrong"?

Cognition has to do with the act of knowing or to what is known by the act of knowing. The writer could mean that Wilson’s cognitive process is right. Or he could mean that what Mr. Wilson has come by the cognitive process to believe is correct. Perhaps he means both.

To be emotionally wrong I suppose could mean that one is having wrong feelings or that one produces bad feelings in another, or again perhaps both. But here is the question: Does the fact that one has wrong feelings or that one produces bad feelings in another mean that a book should never have been published? 

The marriage analogy does not work. The fact that Mr. Wilson should refrain at times from “winning the argument” with his Mrs. Wilson does not mean he should have refrained from trying to win his debates with Christopher Hitchens. Nor does it mean he should not have written a book which can then be addressed in blogs, reviews, and books yet to be written. We are in big trouble when people can no longer publish books based on the way the writer feels or the feelings he may produce in his readers.

Mr. Loritts experienced anger that Mr. Wilson would describe himself as a “paleo-Confederate":

Sure I felt anger at first when Pastor Wilson described himself as a paleo-Confederate (p.80), and my heart rate only escalated further when he rebuked the 19th century “radical abolitionist’s” for being wicked and starting the Civil War, because after all what was needed was not radical reformation, but patience, to simply let the seed of the gospel subversively dismantle the institution of slavery (p.45).
This "Confederate" business, while emotionally charged, does not really say much. Some have accused Dr. Walter Williams of being a “neo-Confederate” because of his views about the constitutional issues at stake in the War. He writes:

Walter Williams
The only good coming from the War Between the States was the abolition of slavery. The great principle enunciated in the Declaration of Independence that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" was overturned by force of arms. By destroying the states' right to secession, Abraham Lincoln opened the door to the kind of unconstrained, despotic, arrogant government we have today, something the framers of the Constitution could not have possibly imagined.
 Dr. Thomas Sowell  is similarly insensitive when he writes of Southern leaders:

Thomas Sowell
Men like Lee (and Davis, and Jackson, and A. P. Hill) believed in a union of consent, not one held together by swords and bayonets. When their states chose independence they stayed loyal to their homes, their families, their kin, their native soil, and the state government that represented them. They did not believe that the Federal government had the right to invade, terrorize, and lay waste states that did not want to be a part of it….
It beggars belief that what motivated the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia was “treason”; that men like Richard Taylor, and men with equally celebrated lineages, kin of Washington, Jefferson, John Marshall, and others of the founding generation, were all “traitors.” The motives, indeed the very language used in declaring Southern independence, came from Thomas Jefferson; the hero on the great seal of the Confederacy was George Washington.
To be sure the majority of black people do not agree with Drs. Williams and Sowell. The good professors' saying of such things provokes anger. But the writers are both black scholars, who also have a right to hold their views, write their columns, and publish their books. 

It is an understatement to say the issue of race is vexing and resistant to resolution. Nothing has worked so far. 

Emancipation did not work because there was no plan for how successfully to transition the black population into freedmen. Occupation did not work because it created resentment and resistance among southerners and did little to advance the welfare of blacks. Segregation did not work because it was demeaning and unjust, denied blacks access to an equal education, and further alienated the races. Integration did not work because it did not lead to the assimilation of the races to a common accepted intellectual and cultural tradition. It is very hard to be optimistic about the future.

What I know is that sensitivity censorship is not the way forward.

Meanwhile I am left wondering why we do not have RAN (Reformed American Network) rather than RAAN. Or, better yet, instead of either, the RC (Reformed Church).

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