The unnecessary battle over wokeness
Dear right wing and left wing: You shouldn’t define Christians by their politics.
Everything has a golden age. ‘If only the modern Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was like Martin Luther King jr’s civil rights era demonstrations’ is a thought expressed by Christians frustrated by the leftists – either Marxists or post-Marxists – who are part of #BLM.
But look inside King’s movement and you quickly find a communist. Stanley Levison, a Jewish Auto dealer from New York, had been in charge of the secret finances of the CPUSA (the Communist Party). He then became a fundraiser for King’s SCLC, as well as his accountant, ghostwriter and a key advisor. CIA documents suggest Levison was a KGB operative.
He also was the chief reason the FBI started their intense surveillance of King.
The point is not to debate King’s life, but that this info (the details of which are still disputed) strongly resembles the reasons given for keeping away from causes such as racial justice. We can’t use words like “black lives matter”, the conservative memes suggest, because there are Communists involved.
Yet, there always will be leftists around social movements. They are often the “canaries in the coal mine” – if one can talk about coal these days – who signal a social issue. And it needs to be said that activists for causes like ‘right to life’ have the same, often lonely, role of afflicting the comfortable middle.
“The Fundamentalist War on Wokeness is a War on Christian Love” is how outspoken evangelical theologian Michael Bird characterises the tendency of Christians to see the ideology of some protagonists as the reason NOT to support social causes.
‘Acknowledging the reality of racism, discrimination, and injustice and determining to change it, does not require adherence to a Marxist narrative, or becoming Woke’
“I know wokeness, believe me, I live in Melbourne, comically known as Melbingrad, one of the wokest cities in the world, where the Government is so progressive it makes California look like Alabama,” are the words of someone who can really grab readers.
But the meat of Bird’s piece is summed up by: “The whole anti-woke and anti-critical race theory trope strike me as not so much interested in opposing progressive authoritarianism and its divisive racial politics, as much as it serves to deny ethnic minorities have any grievances and white churches have any responsibility to do anything about it.”
“In my mind, acknowledging the reality of racism, discrimination, and injustice – whether historical, cultural, institutional – and determining to change it, does not require adherence to a Marxist narrative, or becoming Woke. Rather, it is the outworking of the liberal political tradition rooted in a Christian worldview where everyone should have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Where, to quote George Washington quoting Scripture, ‘Everyone will sit under their own fig tree and no-one will make them afraid.’”
Bird said it better than I can. Despite what the apostles of ‘Liquid Modernism‘ (a term that Rod Dreher endorses in “The Benedict Option“) insist upon, recognising injustice and doing something about it does not require signing up to a complicated ideology.
That ideology could be intersectionalism – the joining together of the causes of oppressed races, sexual minorities, and any other group seeking liberation, which sort of replaces the proletariat (working class) who – according to Hilary Clinton, at least – are “deplorable”.
It could be critical race theory. It could be green pantheism. It could be what that term ‘liquid modernism’ tries to capture, an endless shape-shifting protest movement that, inevitably, will devour its young.
But Christians do not need those ideologies to care about injustice. But their insights and the research which accompanies these movements can be invaluable.
Canadian theologian John Stackhouse has written a series of short columns “Postmodernity, Critical (Race) Theory, Cultural Marxism, and You” to guide a Christian response. They begin here. He ‘s worth reading for establishing that Critical Theory and postmodernism cannot both be right.
He’s in bypass mode as regards the ideologies, but wants us to glean insights:
“Postmodern doubt is appropriate, from a Christian point of view. We should never have trusted so much in monarchs, or politicians, or magnates, or priests. Many of us still give too much allegiance to attractive celebrities and causes. No human being other than Jesus has been perfect, or even close to it.”
“Still, God didn’t need postmodern theorists to acquaint him with the limitations of human knowledge and leadership. And God has given us what we need to know in order to be whom we need to become and in order to do what we need to accomplish. God has given us inspired Scripture, yes, but also Godself as ever-present Teacher, Guide, and Adjudicator — in our own hearts and in the company of the Church …”
“As for Critical Theory, its basic premise can hardly be disputed from a Christian vantage point. Power does tend to corrupt, as (the Christian) Lord Acton observed. And we can simply assume that every institution harbours corrupt motives and modes, every sector of life is warped by the powerful in their own interest.
“Most Christians, furthermore, will agree with the Critical Theorists that the extended project of democratic negotiation is the best (which is to say, least bad) of the available forms of government — even if we Christians are more dubious than at least some of the Critical Theorists about how good the outcomes will be.”
The battle over wokeness is a false battle.
Christians have the means to examine the myths and self justifications of the power structures of the world with as much insight as any postmodernist to reveal the gaps, contradictions, implausibilities and synthetic nature of our culture.
Christians have the means to examine the world as critically as any critical theorists – and we should be attuned to the injustice to be observed there. In fact, we should have an even clearer, and more accurate picture of what is wrong in the world. We recall the Old Testament prophets, or remember that it was Moses who said “let my people go.”
Most Christians will have modern “Moses” in their list of heroes. MLK, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and, in Australia, we should add to our lists the First Nations’ leader William Cooper, or the father of the Aged Pension, Bertie Boyce, of Redfern.
It should give us pause that we don’t want to think about all the Christians who opposed them.
The battle over wokeness is a false battle. It divides Christians falsely into two camps – those who want to put great energy into opposing abortion, and those who want to oppose racial inequality or campaign for refugees.
Christians don’t have to pick political sides this way. You won’t have to look far to find a Christian who wants less abortion and more refugees. Or pornography to be curbed, and renewable energy encouraged.
Most of us I suspect will find that we are a bad fit for any political party. Something will not feel right, even as we vote. And, yes, there also will be some Christians that will feel right at home in various of the parties. Some will be candidates and MPs. I hope they will have friends across the aisle. But like those who don’t quite fit in a party, they will know their ultimate loyalty is not with their party.
Maybe in Australia we should simply be grateful we are not in America, where something called “evangelicalism*” has become allied with one side of politics, and only one set of issues are held to be Christian issues. We are not there, yet.
* A third of American “evangelicals’ don’t believe that Jesus is God according to a poll. This is a sad case of where “Christians” have been defined by their politics, not their faith.