And here are my (equally unedited) notes from Tim Keller’s talk tonight.
Racism and Corporate Evil: A White Guy’s Perspective
Piper’s talk gives the theological foundation for racism. This talk deals with the corporate nature of injustice. Westerners, esp. Americans, are opposed to the idea of corporate evil, societal evil. White people especially need to understand this if they want to understand non-whites.
1. Corporate responsibility (Josh 7, Dan 9, Rom 5). You cannot think of moral responsibility in strictly individualistic terms when you read the Bible. Corporate responsibility within a family (Josh 7). People died because of Achan’s sin. His whole family is stoned to death. Most people in other cultures/countries understand why this happened. Our cultural location causes an offense. Most people in most places know that we are not just the product of our individual choices. If you can do something bad, your family either produced you that way or failed to keep you from becoming that. So your family participates in your guilt. You are the product of a community, and you produce other kinds of people in the community. Corporate responsibility within a nation (Dan 9). Daniel confessed the sins of his people, even generations before. The culture that he is part of produced the sins of the past, and he is still part of that culture. Daniel senses the connection. But Daniel not only participated in the guilt of the community, he also shared in the good things of the community. E.g., Linasnty. When you’re the minority, you understand this point, but not when you’re in the majority. Corporate responsibility with in a race (Rom 5). Paul goes beyond the idea of your family and your culture. You are condemned because of what Adam and Eve did, simply by virtue of being part of the human race. And you can be saved through your connection with Christ. The whole gospel is built on corporate responsibility. At the very heart of Protestantism is the reality that Christ saves people as a group. If you don’t understand this, you end up filtering out–or resisting!–many things that the Bible says.
2. Systemic evil. There are levels of personal responsibility within the community. (a) You know what’s happening in the system and you’re happy that it’s happening. (b) You know what’s happening and you’re indifferent to it. (c) You know what’s happening and you’re upset by it but do nothing. (d) You don’t know what’s happening and are indifferent to it. E.g., the Holocaust: (a) the leaders, (b) the guards, (c) civic leaders, (d) average German citizen. Everyone who was in the system and was not resisting the system was responsible, though to varying degrees. E.g., a town in Virginia had six at-large council members who were all white, though the town was 25% black. Systemic evil is a system that marginalizes people, even if those in the system don’t intend to do so. Do you have the eyes to see systemic evil? If you see them, do you take responsibility?
3. The gospel and corporate evil. Merely converting an individual will not undo racism. Cp. Robert Linthecum, City of God, City of Satan. Something must be done about the system. You can’t just convict people of the individual sin of racism. How the gospel addresses this. (a) If you begin to understand gospel theology, the very doctrine of imputation is not individualistic but collective. The gospel gives anyone who digs into it the ability to see a God working in communities and bodies. Gospel theology gives people, even those from an individualistic background, the ability to see in groups. (b) The gospel changes your identity so that you are less sucked into the systemic evil around us, which typically includes racism. Cp. Michelle Alexander’s reference to gangsta rap culture. People have to create an identity that keeps them from being sucked into what the surrounding culture says about them. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice. The Irish community was empowered to deal with their own problem and they got on top of it, but not so in the black urban community. Both books say that there needs to be a new understanding among whites in order for this to change. And that’s what the gospel uniquely does (cp. Jms 2.1ff.). If you are a Christian affluent person, you must remember that you are a sinner. If you are a Christian poor person, you should remember that you are a child of the King. Thus the gospel keeps people from finding their identity in the thing that society would have them value most highly. (c) Christians ought to get alongside people who fight systemic evils. But so many crusaders have a lot of anger and self-righteousness. The gospel should humble us and keep us from looking down on other people who don’t understand corporate responsibility and societal evil.