The Anglican Compass recently published an article entitled “Anti-Racism: A Letter to Fellow ACNA Clergy” (hereafter referred to as “the Letter”). It is an open letter and the authors hope that ACNA clergy will read it and add their signatures in support. I was initially hesitant about the Letter since Anglican Compass, once The Anglican Pastor, has increasingly positioned itself as a politically leftist advocacy group, moving away from its original mission to be a general resource for Anglican clergy. With regard to questions of ethnicity, in particular, Anglican Compass has promoted several resources steeped in the thought of Critical Race Theory which is indebted to Marxism and has caused great division within evangelical circles.
Having read the Letter several times I have found my reluctance confirmed and, therefore, cannot sign. It would be good to have a solid theologically orthodox statement on race in light of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the subsequent peaceful protests against racism and then the riots and looting driven by Antifa and other outside groups. But this is not that.
Jady Koch, Nick Lannon, and I discussed the question of racial division and the Gospel on the Stand Firm Podcast recently, in particular the three confessions of the Anglican Compass statement. This is a more detailed engagement of which the present article is just the first part.
The first, and perhaps the most easily overcome problem with the Letter lies in the title itself and the phrase “Anti-Racism.” All clergy should, without question, stand against ethnic animus and I believe all ACNA clergy are stalwartly opposed to genuine racial prejudice of any kind. But “Anti-Racism” as a term has recently taken on undesirable ideological baggage. Anti-Racism as defined by the increasingly popular Ibram Kendi refers to more than eradicating ethnic hatred or partiality in one’s own heart and supporting ethnically impartial laws. Anti-Racism requires supporting a particular political ideology that comes with particular political remedies.
This works itself out in a pattern that will be familiar to those of us who came out of the Episcopal Church. When, in that setting, we argued that homosexual behavior is a sin, we did so both because the scriptures teach it and because we love those caught up in the sin. But our revisionist opponents characterized our resistance as homophobia. It did not matter that, in fact, we were neither afraid nor held any animus toward people with same-sex attraction. What mattered is that we opposed the ideological position adopted by the theological/political left. To be so opposed, from the perspective of those caught up in the sexuality error, necessarily constituted “hatred.” Likewise, in this case, to oppose various Anti Racist diagnoses of the racial problem and to oppose the various Anti Racist remedies for it is, by definition, racist. As Dr. Neil Shenvi writes:
“…antiracists like Ibram Kendi see a dichotomy between “racism” and “antiracism”…On this view, each person is forced to either adopt anti-racism wholesale or to risk being labeled a racist. Those who reject antiracism or who accept only parts of it understandably view this definition as an illicit rhetorical maneuver that enforces ideological conformity.”
The term “Anti-Racism” used in this way represents a lie. One might embrace the thoroughly true and good notion that racism is a horrific evil and therefore naively support the Anti-Racism movement, only to find later that you have lent your support to the advancement of a specific ideological program and even to explicitly Marxist organizations like Black Lives Matter. On the flip side, to oppose Anti-Racism not only looks bad but also exposes you to the charge of “white supremacy” or “racism” by virtue of your non-involvement.
The term “White Supremacy” in particular has been weaponized by those pushing the Anti Racism cause. It no longer refers to people who actually believe Caucasians to be superior to those of other skin colors and who despise those of other ethnicities. It refers to people who disagree with or who do not actively take up the Anti Racist diagnoses and remedies for racial injustice. So, for example, because Darrell B. Harrison, a reformed Black pastor, opposes Anti Racism as an ideology and is outspoken about his opposition on social media, Bradley Mason, a professing Christian, recently tweeted the following, “The fact of the matter is, I find Darrell’s work reprehensible and damaging. His tweets are both theologically unsound and perpetuate the white supremacist narrative.”
Biblically speaking, anyone using the terms “White Supremacist” or “Racist” for another person who in fact does not think white people are superior and who does not despise people of other races is a peddler of slander, openly defying God’s law against false witness, and should be subject to church discipline.
In any case, “Anti-Racism” is a loaded term. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it could be that the authors of the Letter use “Anti Racism” in a generic a-political sense which is why this first objection is easily overcome by subsequent clarifications. But Ibram Kendi is among the authors Anglican Compass recommends for Anglican clergy who desire to learn more about racial justice (see the link above). The use of “Anti-Racism” in the title of the Letter, therefore, raises significant questions.
Moving on from the title, the first paragraph of the Letter states:
“Our province, The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), was born as part of a global movement that features diverse leadership and reflects the churches and people of global Anglicanism. It is a manifestation of the universal power and eschatological telos of the Gospel of Jesus: ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:9).”
This is true. Most, if not all, of the congregations that departed from The Episcopal Church took refuge for a number of years under the wings of Global South jurisdictions. The boldness with which Global South primates, archbishops, and bishops took up our defense, not to mention the defense of the Gospel, the kindness with which they sympathized with our losses, despite many of them having lost much more, and the hospitality they extended toward us left a profound and lasting mark on the ACNA. With such origins, it is difficult to see how the ACNA as a corporate body or individual members of the clergy could fall so quickly into ethnic hatred and prejudice, a fall necessarily implied by the subsequent three confessions the signatories of the Letter must make (I will be covering these confessions in a later article).
“Currently, the American population is about 38% non-white. By many projections, over the next 20 years, it will be increasingly composed of ethnic minorities. Our province, however, is far from representative of this emerging reality.”
The Letter does not provide any evidence to substantiate the assertion that “our province…is far from representative of this emerging reality.” Is this conjecture or has there been a comprehensive assessment of parochial report data? If the latter, it would be helpful to have included the documentation in a footnote. If the former, perhaps the authors of the Letter might have used a less sweeping and sure characterization.
If it is true that the percentage of people of color in the ACNA is significantly less than the percentage of people of color in North America, what does that mean? Does it necessarily mean that the ACNA has sinned in some way? Does it mean that the ACNA is doing something wrong? Does it mean that the ACNA has wittingly or unwittingly participated in the marginalization of people of color? It may well be that the ACNA is not as diverse as the country as a whole. But this would not necessarily be the result of latent or overt racial prejudice.
If, moreover, it is true there is a lack of diversity in the ACNA, we should avoid rushing into the politically/theologically progressive programmatic solutions pressed upon us by the left. The Episcopal Church should serve as a warning. She has twisted herself into knots to adopt and embrace every progressive formula on offer and yet despite decades of sincere effort, she remains one of the most ethnically monochrome denominations in the country. That suggests that if indeed there is a diversity problem in the ACNA, the last thing we ought to do to allay it is to adopt similar progressive responses (this too, I will flesh out in a subsequent article).
The Letter continues:
“The mission on our doorstep is clear: to reach North America, in all of its ethnic diversity, “with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.” We have the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel “to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15) and to be Jesus’ witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are called to reflect the ethnic diversity of the global movement of which we are a part, as well as the diverse locales in which we are present.”
There is no biblical text, no apostolic or dominical command, that requires that we “reflect” the ethnic makeup of our community. There could not be since such a command would imply that we not only have the authority to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples but the supernatural authority to govern the results of that proclamation.
I think it generally true that in so far as we are planting churches and preaching the gospel to all peoples in North America, God will increase our ethnic diversity and that the percentage of people of color in the ACNA will be more or less consistent with the continental average. But there is no guarantee, no promise from God, that proclaiming the Gospel in any community will yield results in a statistically consistent way. Christ has given his church the commission to preach the Gospel to all nations and he has purchased a people for himself from every tribe and tongue, but the result of that proclamation is God’s business not ours.
We are certainly called to preach the Gospel to every nation and if we are not doing that we must begin. Have we determined not to plant churches in minority communities? Are we directing the proclamation of the Gospel away from people of color and toward caucasian communities? Are we actively discouraging the ministries or hindering the vocations of people of color? These are legitimate questions. And if the answers reveal that the ACNA has not invested sufficient resources for evangelism in minority communities or, even worse, that the ACNA has dealt unfairly with people of color, especially those seeking ordination, that would, indeed, represent the sin of partiality and repentance would be warranted.
But the Letter provides no evidence that any of this is true beside the apparent conjecture that the ACNA is less diverse than the population as a whole. And even if the conjecture is accurate, the authors of the Letter draw the unsubstantiated conclusion from it that the clergy of the entire denomination are collectively guilty of ethnic prejudice and that to be absolved we must confess and do penance by supporting the authors’ approved programs.