Worth Reading - 4/9

“Racial reconciliation is not something that white people do for other people,” proclaimed Russell Moore in March. Moore, a white man from Mississippi, was opening a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, with an eminently tweetable, infinitely complicated call to end racial division within the church.

As membership in the Southern Baptist church stagnates and baptisms decline, and as America’s younger generations are becoming more diverse and less religious, this kind of rhetoric could seem like a straightforward bid for survival. Millennials care deeply about race and racial justice, so the church has to care, too. Moore’s calls for reconciliation seemed heartfelt, though, as did those of many of the pastors and leaders who met at the Southern Baptists’ conference on race. And they are part of a consistent, longstanding effort. Since at least 1995, the church has been publicly repenting for its history of racial discrimination. Arguably, it has made progress; minority participation in Southern Baptist congregations has blossomed. Yet after two decades, the public-policy arm of the church is still focused almost exclusively on conservative social issues, rather than topics like poverty and mass incarceration, which have a significant impact on racial disparities in America. As the demographics of the church change, the Southern Baptists will have to reckon with these issues—or, perhaps, face future decades of division within their churches.

2. In praise of irrelevant reading. A fun essay by Wesley Hill over at First Things:

When I moved to England to start a Masters degree in theology, I knew I wanted to study St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Like many of my counterparts in the Reformed theological orbit, I was enthralled with questions of law and grace, election and final judgment. During my first year of undergraduate study, I’d sat out on the front lawn of the college green, sweating in the spring sunshine, reading N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. I was certain that the most important questions I could write about in my postgraduate study would have something to do with Jews and Gentiles in Christ in those dense later chapters of Paul’s Romans.

I remember stepping into my advisor’s office with confidence, brandishing a sheet of paper with my notes and proposed outline, like a beaming kid shoving his latest Play-Doh creation into Dad’s line of sight for approval. And my outline was met with approval, at least in part. But what I didn’t yet realize about theological research is that it can almost always benefit from paying attention to the irrelevant. Which is what my advisor wanted to show me.

“Why don’t you go have a look at Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans,” he said, sliding my notes back to me across his desk. I blinked. Having been steeped for the past few years in Greek and Hebrew exegesis and historical study of the first century, I didn’t see much point in reading Barth. Hadn’t the great biblical scholar Brevard Childs paid Barth the backhanded compliment of calling his exegesis a “virtuoso performance,” effectively condemning it as too creative for its own good? Hadn’t James Barr, another accomplished biblical historian, dubbed Barth’s exegesis—you can hear him sighing as he wrote these words—“wearisome, inept, and futile”? I couldn’t see what benefit I would gain from reading Barth, mired as his commentary was in early twentieth-century debates about Protestant liberalism and existentialism. What I wanted was to understand Paul, not wriggle down some rabbit trail of philosophically inflected theology.

3. Stop pretending to be offended by everything! Here is a helpful post from the National Review that is arguing we should quit our addiction to outrage porn:

If I treated The Daily Show as a serious news program, I’d probably note the irony of Noah’s replacing a didactic scold whose entire shtick is predicated on making fun of people whose statements he has taken out of context. And though Noah asks for understanding, it’s unlikely he will be extending the same to conservatives. But just as no one is coercing liberals to listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck (although the Left has campaigned to banish both from the airwaves), it’s easy to ignore The Daily Show. I do it almost every day.

The problem with this kind of prefabricated reaction is not that it emboldens haters but that it crowds out legitimate grievances. Everything begins to stink of politics, and we start sounding like a bunch of humorless protesters. There is nothing wrong with calling out people for the things they say, but there is something fundamentally illiberal about a mob’s hounding people for every stupid tweet or making snap judgments about entire careers based on a few comments. Most often, the purpose is to chill speech. At some point, Americans decided they were going to be offended by everything. And, I guess, that’s what really offends me most.

4. Often our first response is the wrong one. Aaron Earls argues our first thought should be to pray, not to speak:

When I saw Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, had been shot and killed by a white police officer in Charleston, my first response was wrong.

When I heard about the mess surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I didn’t have the right initial response then either.

If I’m honest, the first action I usually take after every significant global, national, local or personal event is mistaken.

It’s not that I lash out in misdirected anger or refuse to follow the facts of the case. Instead, my first response is always to say something to anyone except the One who can actually do something about it.

I want to tweet something or post on Facebook or write a blog post or do anything—and everything—except pray.

Praying seems so passive, so weak, so much of a responsibility shift. But that’s kinda the point.