Saturday, December 14, 2013

You May Have Your Culture

May I Have Mine?

I was sitting in my room minding my own business, surrounded by some imaginary dead white guys, when Thabiti Anyabwile came in and told me I had to take a bath because I was going to the doctor to get my mind right. My brother better bring some of the big guys from the Coalition with him, because I ain’t taking no bath; I ain’t going to no doctor; I ain’t getting my mind right. At least not voluntarily.

Mr. Abyabwile, partly at least in response to the recent dust-up about Reformed Rap, has taken to describing some of those he calls his his brothers as "crazy Confederate uncles."

Here is the way he sees those he regards as "crazy uncles":

For us theologically reformed types, I call these folks our “crazy Confederate uncles.” Somehow they’ve managed to hold onto the old blending of southern Presbyterianism or Reformed theology and are trying desperately to keep the old world in this new one. So, they make videos and give speeches about the South being the “greatest Christian civilization” or slavery “not being that bad.” They show up with flammable comments whenever “racial issues” dominate the news, like when a South African president dies or a teenage boy is killed. And it seems that our “crazy Confederate uncles” have been out of their rooms a lot lately, talking crazy about Christian hip-hop, interacting with the town folks and leaving a lot of people aghast. Even as a family member, I’ve been pretty embarrassed and sometimes angry.

But, “They don’t know no better.”

The problem with these crazy uncles is that they have inherited schizophrenia from their Southern forbears who divided theology and ethics. It's not just that that some of the older theologians' ethical views were mistaken, or wrong, or even sinful, but that they deliberately split ethics from theology so they could continue in their sinful ways. 
Our “crazy Confederate uncles” suffer from a deep split in their Christian personality inherited from the early days of the Protestant Church in America. When much of the “white Church” decided that Christian theology could be conceptually and then practically separated from Christian ethics, a kind of spiritual schizophrenia developed. Much of the “white Church” came to believe that a person could hold the “right” theological views while refusing to do the right things.
The last thing in the world you should do with these Confederate uncles is to engage them in rational discussion, because everybody knows you can't reason with a crazy man:

Well, we can’t join our “crazy Confederate uncles” in their delusions. We have to remain firmly planted in reality—the Bible’s reality and the world as it really is. This means you can’t treat the uncle Sonnys of the world as though they’re actually lucid during their episodes. You can’t answer with rational argument because that only affirms their sense of being right and in their right mind when they are neither. 

If they raise the issue of culture, they are using code for "white supremacy" :
You can’t answer the question, “Are not some cultures superior to others?” as if “cultural superiority” isn’t just another term for “white supremacy” and as if white supremacy is something other than the live-in girlfriend of racism. How can we even ask that question when we’re talking about a “society” that brutally enslaved millions of people made in God’s image unless we’re first guilty of severing theology from ethics? In dealing with such views, we must remember palatable labels for ugly ideas do not a polite conversation make. The odd moments when they are “crazy” and correct (and it does happen) can tempt us to treat them as if all their ideas and attitudes deserve our attention. But, as the cliché goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The wider family must refuse to join the delusion and we must refuse to give backward opinions legitimacy by debating them as if they were worthy.
I should not have to say these things, but I will, though I know some, perhaps including Brother Anyabwile, will take it as the equivalent of "I have black friends": (1) I have no sympathy for the League of the South. I have never been to Monroe, Louisiana, or attended a Confederate Ball. While I am eligible for membership, I have not joined the Sons of the Confederacy because I do not want anything to do with the racism of some of its members. (2) In seminary in the early 1970s I spent two summers working as an assistant to a black Presbyterian pastor in Jackson, MS. (3) I was run off as a RUM campus minister, with a wife and five babies, in part because of my racial views and practice. Ours was the only integrated RUF in Mississippi, and we integrated the statewide conferences. I stood by an interracial dating couple which included my sitting in an office hearing one of them described as a "white N-word" by a person threatening my job. (4) I have a love-hate relationship with the South, and particularly with Mississippi. Mississippi is a place where place (both geography and status) and people (your family and social group) make a great deal of difference. I hate indirection and insincerity in relationships. But the South is like my family. I can point out theie faults, but if you go to talking bad about my people, I'll bow my neck and clench my fists.  (5) I read B.B. Warfield and listen to B.B. King.

But, nevertheless I am one of those crazy Confederates I suppose because I am (1) white (so far as I know, though there are questions) , (2) Reformed (in my case defined by the 39 Articles); (3) western (in civilization - the "dead white guys"); (4) Southern (by heritage and affection).

Like all paranoid schizophrenics, I feel I have been persecuted.

Not long after our family moved to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, my wife and I attended a meeting at the Christian school four of our boys would attend. After the meeting, as we were milling around the refreshments, a parent introduced himself to me, and learning that we had just moved, asked from where we had moved. I answered, “Mississippi.” He replied, “I’m sorry.” As a gentleman who had been offended, I could have defended my honor by challenging him to a duel at dawn. But, I chose a more modern gentlemanly way. I said nothing. But I did not forget.

Lee Chapel
Campus, W&L
Years later in the Pittsburgh suburbs I attended the year end sports banquet of the Christian school our sons attended. The event was held in the Fellowship Hall of the church where I was pastor. As I was having a conversation with another parent, a lawyer, I mentioned that our oldest son had been accepted into the law school at Washington and Lee University. He gratuitously replied, “Some of us have a problem with that second name.” (For those who do not know the history of the school, the name Lee was added to Washington because after the War Robert E. Lee served as its President.) I was tempted to punch him in the nose, but I limited myself to saying, “Well he (Lee) is one my heroes.”

Moreover, I have some deluded ideas which do not deserve rational discussion: (1) I believe the New Testament neither establishes nor abolishes but regulates the institution of slavery. I do not want to be a slave or want anyone else to be a slave. But, if I found myself a slave, however that came to be, I think there is teaching in the New Testament to guide me. (Whether I would follow the guidance is another matter.) (2) There is no doubt that the institution of slavery was the immediate cause of secession in 1861, but I believe there were underlying constitutional issues, too, and, with regard to those I think the South was right. Those issues were settled not by legal means but by War. (3) I think it was a mistake by States that wanted to remain in the Union to compel those who wanted to leave to remain through invasion, destruction, occupation, and reconstruction. 

Here is another delusion. I do not believe all civilizations are equal. I believe the western tradition is superior to all others. That does not mean that it is perfect or that there is not much that is valuable about, to be learned from, and to be assimilated from other cultures. But western civilization, which seems to be dying, is the highest that man has produced. I am sad that in the west we no longer assimilate ourselves to that civilization.

I am western and I am southern. I have been shaped by western civilization and southern culture. I love both my civilization and my culture. I want to be as objective as I can about both, but I am not willing to reject or give up my civilization or culture.

Multi-culturalism has triumphed. I do not think that is good, but I accept defeat. That means you may have your culture. My question is, May I have mine?

PS: As a newly minted Anglican, I  point you to two southern generals who were Episcopalians:

Robert E. Lee
After the War

Leonidas Polk,
"The Fighting Bishop"
Episcopal Bishop, Lt. General
KIA Battle of Atlanta

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

One doesn't have to be a crazy confederate to suffer from what all crazy confederates suffer from. For what drives all crazy confederates is what drives people to be loyal to labels, ideologies, and nations among other things. One drives people to such loyalty is tribalism.

Though tribalism occurs in different degrees, it has one overarching principle. Tribalism says that one's group is more important than principles or God. And as a result, tribalism appeals to our need to feel significant and thus our pride. And anyone who belongs to a group will be tempted to embrace tribalism. Obviously, your identification with the South and its culture makes you susceptible to embrace confederate tribalism. I am a leftist and I have the same temptation only the object of my embrace is political leftism. So here we are equal in that we deal with the same temptation.

In Philippians 3, Paul voided himself of all such earthly group significance because, for him, it was not only superseded by his belonging to Christ, it supplemented his belonging to Christ and thus became a distraction. As a result, tribalism tends to divide the body of Christ.