I’ll End This Debate Right Here: Jesus Was Not a Socialist

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It looks like Liberty University’s Falkirk Center wants to stage a debate between Charlie Kirk and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove over whether Jesus was a socialist.  Here is a taste of Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service:

Charlie Kirk says no. But the Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says Jesus is more complicated than that.

Kirk and Wilson-Hartgrove may square off soon at a proposed debate to be hosted by the new Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty at Liberty University. 

On Thursday (Dec. 12), the Twitter account of the newly created conservative think tank posted a challenge to Wilson-Hartgrove, a progressive faith leader in North Carolina, offering to host a debate over whether Jesus was a socialist.

The tweet stipulated that the debate would be conducted between Wilson-Hartgrove and Kirk, the 26-year-old co-founder of the Falkirk Center and head of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

The tweet said both parties would also include one other participant of their choosing.

Wilson-Hartgrove, a pastor and author of “Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good,” responded by accepting the challenge and offering up prominent progressive activist the Rev. William Barber II as his partner.

However, he also appeared to reject the premise of the debate.

“Socialism emerged in the 19th (century) as a critique of capitalism, which didn’t exist in 1st century Palestine,” he tweeted. “But if (Charlie Kirk) & Falwell are up for a public conversation about what the Lord requires of us in public life, (the Rev. William Barber) & I are ready.”

Read the entire piece here.

Was Jesus a socialist?  No. Socialism did not exist until the 19th century.  I thus agree with Wilson-Hartgrove.  The entire premise of the debate is flawed.  It looks like the Falkirk’s Center’s attempt to re-educate Americans about United States history is off to a good start.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Report on Racism and Slavery is Well-Done and It is a Big Step in the Right Direction

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In case you haven’t heard, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville recently issued a 66-page historical report on its long history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequality, Lost Cause mythology, and white supremacy.  The scholars who composed the report produced an excellent work of institutional history.  I have known professors Gregory Wills, Matthew Hall, and John Wilsey to be first-rate historians and honest scholars.

A wise friend once told me that when it comes to dealing with race and racial reconciliation in America all of us (especially white people) are on a journey.  When we engage the darkness of race relations in the United States we are always going to encounter people who are at various stages on that journey.  What I have learned in recent years is that we must walk beside one another on this journey and help each other along the way.  As I see it, it is the only way forward.

I say this because I have been disappointed by the response the SBTS statement has received by those who seem to believe that they are further down the road on the question of race relations in America.  Rather than seeing this statement as a MAJOR step in the right direction for SBTS–a step that should be commended by all those concerned with racism in the Christian community–most of the coverage has attacked the statement as not going far enough.

For example, I think Rod Dreher, bombast aside, is generally correct in his criticism of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s piece in the Washington Post.  Here is a taste of Dreher:

The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.

A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.

Read Dreher’s entire post here.  I wonder if Wilson-Hartgtove, whose work I admire, just missed an opportunity to walk alongside SBTS as they embark on this journey.

And here is historian Alison Collis Greene, a historian I know and respect, at National Public Radio:

Notwithstanding the seminary’s new openness about its pro-slavery past, the detailed chronology ends in 1964. “In the decades following the civil rights movement, the seminary continued to struggle with the legacy of slavery and racism,” the report concludes, but without further elaboration.

“Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step,” says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, “or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant.”

Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination’s recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.

“It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities,” Greene says.

Greene’s criticism here is fair.  But rather than see the statement for what it doesn’t do, I prefer to see it for what it does do.

I know Greene has not been at Emory University very long.  Perhaps she will be able to help Emory add to its own statement about the school’s connection to slavery.  It is nowhere near as thorough as SBTS’s statement and it stops at 1962.

NBC’s coverage quotes my friend, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor Paul Harvey: “The Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the denomination leaders…did a very good job of reckoning with the past, and a not-so-good job of reckoning with the present.”  Again, this is a fair criticism.  SBTS has a long way to go on this issue.  Perhaps a model for moving forward might be what is happening at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”  (Listen to episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).  But in the meantime, I am glad to see that SBTS has begun the journey.  As someone on my Facebook page noted, “Let’s hope they keep walking.” Yes!  We will be watching.

I hope future coverage of this statement will be more balanced.  For example, why hasn’t The Washington Post, NPR, or NBC talked with African-American leaders within the Southern Baptist Church?  Where are the interviews with Fred Luter, Thabiti Anyabwile, Byron Day or anyone in the National African Fellowship or the Black SBC Denominational Servants Network?

I also hope other southern schools–seminaries, colleges, and universities–will do the kind of historical work SBTS has done as a necessary starting point to address their own racist pasts.  I am thrilled to see the way these SBTS professors are using the study of history to work toward justice.

More Evangelical Nostalgia

Metaxas at PartyOver at NBC News, Christian author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reminds us, as I did extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that white evangelicals are very nostalgic people.

Here is a taste:

Trump’s use of nostalgia has helped maintain connections between the Trump administration and a conservative faith community shaped by decades of culture wars. The religious right, which traditionally emphasized “family values,” has nonetheless lined up to support a thrice-married, Casino-owning playboy who flaunts morality and marital fidelity. When asked, Trump’s religious backers consistently point to his support for their issues. But the issues that the religious right taught white evangelicals to focus do not spring from a Biblical concern for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. They are instead the white cultural values of order, respect for authority and traditional gender roles.

Prophetic stands and moral outrage are well and good.  I respect Wilson-Hartgrove and others.

But if Christians want to do something to end the nostalgic longings of white evangelicals, they need to consider the long view.  A false view of American history, propagated by the likes of David Barton and Eric Metaxas, is the foundation of this nostalgia-fueled politics.  We must do better at teaching Christians about American history, the history of the Christianity, and historical ways of thinking about the past.  We must throw our money behind these efforts.  If we do not, we will be fighting these battles against evangelical nostalgia for a long, long time.