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CharlottesvilleDo we need really need one more hot take on Charlottesville?

Racism is wrong. White supremacy is sinful. Murder (by car, or by any other means) is deplorable. The whole scene was ugly. The pictures of Tiki torches and Nazi salutes would be silly, were they not so sinister.

Beyond those obvious sentiments (or, at least what I used to assume were obvious sentiments--as I said yesterday on Twitter, “Racial reconciliation is complicated and hard. Condemning Neo-Nazis should not be.”), what else should be said?

Here is one simple observation--an observation that until recently I would have missed.

Let’s start by setting aside the debate about how bad things really are. Do the hundreds of Neo-Confederate and Neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville represent a teeny-tiny, overly hyped segment of the American popular? Or are we seeing the tip of the iceberg as White Nationalism is now feeling freer to come out of the closet? Or is there truth to both statements? I think most Christians would grant that real strides have been made over the last 50 years when it comes to equal treatments for African Americans, while at the same time acknowledging that we haven’t made as much progress as we would like. The degree to which things are “not that bad” or things “are as bad they’ve ever been” is not the debate I want to have here.

But even if we conclude that the vast majority of Americans despise racism and have zero sympathy for fools infatuated with Hitler, it would still be the case that what we saw in Charlottesville was, for a long time, not that unusual. I have a lot still to learn when it comes to understanding racial matters in our country. But one of the things I have learned is that I haven’t fully appreciated how recent this history really is.

This came to my attention a couple years ago when I was reading David Kennedy’s book Don’t Shoot. In this fascinating book--part memoir and part policy prescription--Kennedy strikes the remarkable the balance of being sympathetic to African-American communities and sympathetic to police officers. But I don’t bring up the book to talk about law enforcement, but to note what he says about historical legacy.

Here’s what I wrote last year:

"Let's start with the fact," Kennedy begins, "that the idea, common currency in these neighborhoods, that the government is running a carefully organized racial conspiracy [e.g., introducing crack into the inner city so that blacks can be arrested and whites can have good jobs in jails and in police departments] against black America is not as crazy as it sounds" (140). We have to remember that it wasn't that long ago that Jim Crow and separate but equal were legal, and even more recent that all sorts of illegal injustices (like lynchings) were overlooked by law enforcement agencies in cahoots with the KKK. "This was America, our America. Whites tend barely to know it, or to diminish it, or to set it aside as then against whatever it is that now begins." (141). But in living memory for many in the black community, and in the collective memory of many more, are remembrances of police dogs and fire hoses set against peaceful demonstrators, of Bloody Sunday, of Klan-directed terrorism, of real racial injustices in our judicial system that most of us would find cringe-worthy and cruel. This may all seem like a long time ago, but not when it happened to your grandma or to your pastor.

Even though I wrote this paragraph, I can easily forget it. I can think, We’ve moved past the worst of these problems. And by some measures we certainly have. But the events of this weekend demonstrate that the past can still be scarily present. It also reminds me that what is an ugly news story to me as a white man is going to land on my African-American brothers and sisters with a frightening force that I’ve not had to face.

So no matter how far we’ve come, or how loudly we denounce racism, we have to realize that the pride of racial superiority is still sin, and it’s still with us. Even on our best days--as a country, as the church, and as individuals--it’s still the case that the worst days weren’t that long ago. For some, they were just last weekend.


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Comments:


18 thoughts on “It Wasn’t That Long Ago”

  1. Missy M says:

    Feel free to mention Antifa and BLM any time. They arrived without permits and covered in masks and weaponized and proceded to clash.

    You cannot treat half the body, you cannot cure an illness halfway.

    You do not give Americans sufficient credit by a large margin but imagine the worst as What Lies Beneath. You are pandering, sir.

  2. mdb says:

    By saying for some the worst days were just last weekend, you are saying, in many respects, that the presence of racists, that is, the presence of free speech, is bad.
    And to the paragraph you quoted, am I allowed to be offended that, apparently there are many in the black community who think I, as a white person, am part of a conspiracy to ruin their neighborhoods with crack? Is that not a horrible accusation, and one made totally based on race? The book says, well, a while ago black people were lynched. Fair enough. Am I allowed, when I am in public, to look at black people with suspicion, because I voted for Trump, and several times whites have had the stuffing beaten out of them by blacks for that reason? I think that is within my living memory, right? It’s in, shall we say, white collective conscience. Can I hold that against the black community, the way some pretend like crack is a white conspiracy?

  3. Joe Stocker says:

    Trump did denounce all of those things but NeverTumpers saw an opportunity to derail his Presidency by linking him to a tiny group of white supremacists. It isn’t the first time they have tried to do this and it won’t be the last.

    It’s a risky strategy because they are feeding an insatiable crocodile. How diverse are *our* neighborhoods and churches? The left won’t stop with attacking Trump and toppling statues. They will come after you next.

    Also the deep dishonesty of framing Trump and his supporters as racists and white supremacists isn’t Christian. It’s a lie that will tear evangelical communities apart.

  4. Matthew Clark says:

    I enjoyed this article, Kevin. How close in time we still are to the days of Jim Crow is an important thing to remember.

    I wish folks would pause and be self-reflective upon reading an article like this instead of immediately fingerpointing.

  5. John says:

    I am tired of events in the American media driving the message being promulgated by the Church. All we’re doing is joining in the gossip.

  6. mdb says:

    Matthew-
    I imagine my comment was one that you thought wasn’t reflecting. I reflected, I disagree. This racial pandering needs to stop. It excuses racial sins of non-whites. It also aggravates younger whites. I know many white teenagers. They aren’t racist. They never have been. They were born in the late 90s or early 2000s. Most of their formative years were with a somewhat popular black president. They are being lumped in with racial sins of 50 years ago, or more. They are treated by leftists as though they are just as nasty as the KKK. We talk about empathy in racial conversations. What about empathy for them?

  7. JJ says:

    There seems to be this delusion that only white people are racist, hateful, or bigots. That’s so far from the truth it’s disgusting. Want to be open and honest, then let’s denounce ALL HATE because no matter who delivers it, it’s still hate and still a sin.

  8. Doug says:

    We should expect to see more and more expressions of racial supremacy, black and white. This is the logical conclusion of our government schools teaching Evolution. Supremacy thinking is survival of the fittest in action. It can only be counteracted by preaching the Supremacy of Christ, abandoning the message of religious neutrality a.k.a. Universal Religious Freedom.

  9. Michael says:

    1. First off there is extensive use of the Tu Quoque (you too) and Two Wrongs Make a Right fallacies here. Pointing out other things which are wrong on the other side does not suddenly make the authors point wrong or the behaviors the author is addressing acceptable. One need not make an exposition of everything wrong in the world to say that X is bad.

    2. By all accounts of people who were actually in Charlottesville (including quite a number of clergy) and were not among the Nazis and their sympathizers, the anti-Nazi protesters were vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

    3. When group A has been assaulted by group B for centuries, do you really expect group B to suddenly like group A immediately after group A stops assaulting them? That seems rather insane.

    4. In our nations history, which has been a bigger problem on the whole, those who believe in white superiority or those who believe in black superiority? If that is a hard question for you to answer, you have a problem.

  10. mdb says:

    Gotta love the current times.
    Michael says:

    “3. When group A has been assaulted by group B for centuries, do you really expect group B to suddenly like group A immediately after group A stops assaulting them? That seems rather insane.”

    Ah yes, wouldn’t it be insane? I wonder if, white people, who thought blacks should have civil rights 50 years ago, had any idea that phrase would be uttered? They didn’t, because it might have changed their thinking! So, Michael, do we have to have as many years of bad treatment back from blacks, as they were enslaved, and then we will have equality? Speaking of the Bible, I think it says something about forgiveness.

    As to your other point, Antifa had weapons. They were there to assault. This is known, this is their MO. I realize that you don’t care. Posting what you posted shows that you don’t care. Based on what you posted, blacks killing whites on the streets of Charlottesville would be justified in your eyes. But this is for those reading, also.

  11. Katie says:

    Thank you for this. This is so important. But it absolutely breaks my heart that so many of my fellow white brothers and sisters are choosing to spend more time deflecting blame than owning the reality our collective white sin in our country. It is imperative that the white American Christian to lay down our rights and pursue reconciliation, in humility and repentance. Keep speaking truth.

  12. We should not buy into this type of identity war that conflates ideas to create this purposeless tension in society and attempts to divide people into groups. When speaking of groups, and I believe this especially true of the New Testament, the division should be as to our identification with Christ.

    That’s not to say there are not sociological problems reflect into segments of the society that we, as Church, should not be aware or of or involved with. But whilst there is no evidence of institutional racism in America, one should strive of individual accountability. There is (and there might always be) indeed individual and some groups that might present these disgusting traits. It is not to put all whites inside the same bracket. If there is evidence that a particular group or a particular individual is guilty of racism, they should be persecuted under the law, and we, as Church, should be engaging em preaching the Gospel which has enough source of compassion.

    I think the Bible sponsors individual freedom and accountability and this has been the one of the historical legacies of the reformation.

    Do the hundreds of Neo-Confederate and Neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville represent a teeny-tiny, overly hyped segment of the American popular?

    Yes. And unfortunately part of the media attempts to equate the alt-right or the white supremacy movement with other conservatives, including Christians to make it look as a widespread notion. It is not.

    So, in closing, we should as you said, continue to loudly denounce racism as being sinful. So is virtually any other human pride. So as it is immoral to pretend the Antifas are not also a violent group. You put a bunch of sinful people, tormented by hateful ideas of segregation, supremacy and revenge and you get Charlottesville. It was not difficult to predict. Now, if you want to solve the question, give them the Gospel in its essence and its more varied applications. No need to look at sins of the forefathers, just look at the merits of Christ, in whom we can be rightfully boastful. And let’s shout it even louder than our cries for social justice.

  13. AC SLATER says:

    I’m not sure how evangelicals should actually be responding to these political hot topics. Props to DeYoung for taking a stab at it… but good golly the topics are so fickle and none of us know very much. Darned if you do and darned if you don’t.

    As a whole though, I feel like TGC, Desiring God, Village Church, etc. have taken a strangely liberal view on these issues. First they all pretty much told us that voting for Trump was the wrong thing to do, and now they’re pumping out articles kinda anti trump. Or at least subtly. This concerns me because 1) I love TGC/DesiringGod more than any other resource for growth and 2) I voted for Trump because well thats what our binary system requires. Lolly pop land doesn’t exist yet. Am I not taking proverbial advice? Going against Deyong and Piper and Mohler seems like a bad idea!!

    Whats a guy supposed to do… Anyway by and large it seems to me that the Reformed community has kinda bought to much of the liberal media fire sale. Where was the article on how silly it was for Obama’s silly comments about trayvon martin? Where was the article about the baltimore rioting? Republican senator shooting? No comments. I think some African American church leaders took pominant stands against things like Black Lives Matter and Anti-cop agendas… but not TGC.

    Obviously I don’t want TGC or Kevin for that matter to comment on all this crazy stuff… but its obvious the ones that are being commented on are the anti-trump ones. I can see why as a white Christian myself, I now (thanks media!) feel the need to clarify with everyone that I’m of course not racist…. but don’t take the bait leaders! There is a hook on that line that will suck you in and will inadvertently make the other side look bad.

    Somehow Eric Metaxas is now the only real deal christian that I know of who unabashedly is not anti-trump. Of course non of us are exactly pro-Trump character wise, but if you live in the real planet earth where hard decisions like dropping hiroshima bombs, or even small shrewd businesses decisions have to be made… he still makes the most sense as president… given what the system gave us.

    So all that to say… love the blog Kevin. I told you that once in person in PA. You told me I probably just like Monday Morning Humor… haha I said no no I love the truth that feeds my soul. Keep pumping out truth in your amazingly articulate way … but take some advice from a businessman observing from PA… listen to a little more conservative news to get proper balance (even if you don’t agree with it – metaxas-limbaugh). I think you might have drank too much yahoo/msn/cnn/apple news/google kool-aid. Just a thought.

  14. mdb says:

    “This is so important. But it absolutely breaks my heart that so many of my fellow white brothers and sisters are choosing to spend more time deflecting blame than owning the reality our collective white sin in our country. It is imperative that the white American Christian to lay down our rights and pursue reconciliation, in humility and repentance. Keep speaking truth.”

    The problem with that thinking, Katie, is that when you go collectivist, you have to go all the way. I have never owned slaves. I was born after Martin Luther King died, for that matter, I was born in a Union state, not a Confederate one. Yet, despite no individual actions by me, I am held collectively accountable.
    Let’s flip that script. Do you know how much black-on-white crime there is in this country? A lot. Much more than white-on-black, particularly if you are talking about murder and other violent crimes. Should my law-abiding black neighbors who live down the road apologize to me. They should, right? Collective accountability would demand this to happen.

  15. mdb says:

    AC Slater-
    Yes, they are all acting like liberals. There are likely a variety of reasons. For starters, most Christian colleges these days, even evangelical ones, are more left-leaning than you would expect. This produces a generation of left-leaning Christians. This produces leadership, like TGC and Desiring God, who have always connected with younger believers, to somewhat pander. I also don’t think it’s all pandering, most I am sure really believe what they are saying.
    Here is why they believe, and say it: It costs them nothing. Nothing from their personal lives will change for saying it. Yet, they will be patted on the head and told how strong and courageous they are, for championing beliefs that the majority of white Americans have held for 35 years.
    Kind of sad. Anyway, say hi to Zach and Screech for me.

  16. The BP says:

    Dear Kevin, It’s me, The BP.
    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the opportunity to speak my heart in response.

    After the human tragedy of Saturday in Charlottesville which was a manifestation of the reality of humankind’s sin nature, a reality of humankind calling evil good and good evil, and ultimately the demonstration of Satan’s power on humankind I recalled a scripture I’d never heard preached. 2 Corinthians 6:1,2. The afternoon of August 14 I received a text from one of my grandsons, he loves to send me praise songs and the one he sent that afternoon was “Grace On Top of Grace.” In my response to him I quoted from 2 Cor. 6, “O that neither of us ever take His grace in vain.” Within 48 hours I’d heard 2 messages from 2 Cor. 6:1,2. Monday evening I attended FBC Indian Trail and heard Herb Reavis preach on that passage. I grew in grace that evening. Tuesday evening I decided to google John MacArthur on that passage and heard his HONOR AND DISHONOR message. I grew in grace that evening as well.

    Yes, I am praying Kevin to OUR ALL POWERFUL GOD.

    Here’s the passage prompting prayer for the children of God as well as for those who are not …. all for His glory.

    “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says,
    In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, NOW (emphasis) is the favorable time; behold, NOW (emphasis) is the day of salvation.”

    GOD IS ALWAYS SPEAKING.

    May He grant humankind’s ears to be opened to HEAR HIM.

  17. Curt Day says:

    If we think of racism as existing on a continuum rather than at a discrete point as defined by the white supremacists and nazi protesters in Charlottesville, then we can not only look down at the horrible events there and then, we can look intensely in a mirror to see if there is any racism in ourselves. But even with that, it is difficult to see racism in ourselves because of the stigma associated with it. The stigma creates a conflict of interests when being able to see racism in ourselves.

    For a while many of us well-meaning whites have been saying that racism no longer exists. On the other hand, Blacks have been telling us something different. So perhaps the events in Charlottesville might motivate us to ask our fellow Black Americans where they experience racism from the rest of us. Or we could just look at the protesters in Charlottesville and be content with knowing that we aren’t them.

    Martin Luther King attributed the continued existence of racism in our society not to pride, though that certainly can be a factor, but to our way of life. In his speech against the Vietnam War, King said the following:


    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

  18. The Nazis thought their way was the only way. They refused to let anybody say something different. If you did not fit into their plan you were beaten, locked up and killed. There was a legal Rally which had permits to express their thoughts. However 15,000 plus protesters showed to make sure they were not heard. They wore hoods, mask, destroyed property, attacked people, and even attacked our Police Officers. It was a lynching by the left to make sure a group of Americans were denied their rights.This is the prejudice Obama wants in this country. We see a lot of this on TV, but this is NOT America, this is trouble that is bused in to prevent equal rights. Lately, what we see in Texas and Louisiana with neighbors helping neighbor’s, that is America. There has been a lot of wrong in the past done to all Races and Nationalities . There is nothing we can do about our past, and trying to hide it is even worst. I live in the now and future. People are people. If your a responsible law abiding American citizen you should be treated equally according to everyone else. We need to continue supporting each other, and pushing for stronger control of those who try to prevent a peaceful loving USA. STOP ALL HATE AND VIOLENCE . . . LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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