I have such a great appreciation for Neil Carter. Although he is no longer a Christian, he is regularly concerned that neither Christianity in general, nor Jesus, be maligned as a whole for things that are the responsibility of a subset of Christians who can be shown to have departed wholesale from Jesus’ teachings. For instance, he recently wrote the following in a blog post about what a church is for:
They have internalized a theology that absolves them of all social responsibility.
A quick glance through history reveals how they came to inherit a theology that excludes any practical engagement with the plight of those at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. In case you didn’t know, the theological frameworks of today’s white evangelical churches were forged in the fires of a civil war fought over the abolition of slavery. And no, the theological forbears for Southern Baptists were not the ones trying to end the immoral institution. They were the ones trying to preserve it.
During and after the war, pastors of white churches in the Southeastern United States learned to conveniently overlook those places where the Bible enjoins God’s people to take care of those less fortunate, and in time they came to embrace a handful of apocalyptic expectations that only looked for the world to be incinerated as completely as their own hometowns had been decimated during Sherman’s infamous “march to the sea.”
Today white evangelicals cannot even see the places where Jesus tells his followers they will be judged based not on what they believe but on how well they treat those in need (e.g. Matt. 25:31-46). What they see there instead is the theology of Paul overlaid onto Jesus and then filtered through the lens of the Protestant Reformation, at times making faith an end in itself…
Their theology was built around the needs of wealthy white landowners. In the place where concern for the poor should dominate their pastoral themes, there’s just a gaping hole—a silence that screams volumes about the values of the people who fashioned the way evangelicals think today.
This is what I call apophatic racism—discrimination through simply circumnavigating the entire subject for so long that your theology has nothing at all to say on the matter, which means such matters can never really become important to you. There’s no place to fit a social conscience into the mind of a white evangelical who is only waiting around for Jesus to come back.
Returning to our main topic in this post, pointing out these kinds of details from the Bible, and more specifically from the teaching of Jesus, and also highlighting the history of involvement in oppression that the Southern Baptist hermeneutic was developed to defend, are all precisely the kinds of responses that are needed to preachers who spout claims that are not merely false but laughably nonsensical, such as when one recently said that fighting injustice appears nowhere in the Bible. See too Libby Anne’s post about the “Slave Bible” that has been getting significant media attention lately.
There were also a number of responses to the claim that circulated via the Gospel Coalition, to the effect that atheists and progressive Christians converge on certain tenets. Pete Enns’ is particularly thorough and detailed.