From Pastor Dan's Blog

Waiting for the ‘but’

I regularly enjoy the webcomic “XKCD.”  (I take no responsibility for you looking that up, nor for your resultant mirth, confusion, or offense.)  Here is comic #2146, “Waiting for the but…”

            All of XKCD’s comics also come with a post-punchline punchline.  This one came with: “Listen, I’m not a fan of the Spanish Inquisition OR predatory multi-level marketing schemes…”  Yikes.  Brace for the essential oil independent-contractor brigades to take over your local craft fair and use their oils to set other vendors’ spaces aflame!  Oops, already sort of happened.  At least the smoke would be a soothing chamomile and sandalwood scent.  Or beware the vacuum salesman whom you somehow permitted into your living room to hold you hostage until you buy the $1500 vacuum!  Oops, already did that (Briefly!  Just not briefly enough.  Michigan was in a recession.  Jobs were tough to find, ok?  My mom bought one, though.  Thanks, mom.).

            Also about as regularly, I have this “waiting-for-the-but” experience during conversations about racism.  The short version goes like this, “I’m not a racist, but…”

            Or “I think we’re all the human family, and race is a made-up thing, but I’m just…”

            Or “I’ve got an (other ethnicity) friend, and I’ve even done community projects with (other ethnicity) group, but I’ve learned that they just want to do their own thing…”

            In every case, the prologue is meant to set up some moral high ground for what will probably sound, if not actually be, a low moral statement.  But the speaker, having hedged against someone taking their opinion wrongly (“That’s racist.”) or labeling them as some undesirable category of person (“You’re a racist.”), now has justified in their own minds, and they hope in the minds of their hearer, that what they’re about to say isn’t actually as bad as it would otherwise appear.

            This also has the effect of pre-empting critique.  The speaker claims to have done the necessary intellectual work, has reasoned that their idea is defensible or even upright, and trusts that you’re willing to see that their conclusion is, in fact, correct.

            I wish I could offer some helpful ways of skirting this verbal trap should it clamp its sweet pious-sounding steel on you, but the best case scenario is that you are in enough of a relationship with this person that you can ask questions about why they think their “but” statement is mitigated by their prologue.  Or, if you’re brilliant and swift, you could come up with a parallel argument that demonstrates how absurd their argument is.  Or, if you’re a secure person with boundaries, you will have the courage to confront an evil without prioritizing the other person’s feelings over truth.  Or, if you’re like me, you’ll likely spend the next one or two days, possibly years, coming up with devastating rejoinders and hoping that fantasizing about your past intelligence will lead to future wisdom.  Let me tell you, I’ve got some real zingers waiting for you if we ever have the same disagreement we had twelve years ago when we were only slightly less young and foolish than we are now.  Will you still be my friend even when I botch my witty comeback?

            Would that Christians, myself included, were more courageous with principles.  Christ’s Kingdom doesn’t win when we allow the ill-conceived or immoral-and-therefore-anti-God ‘but’ to stand its ground.  All that is necessary for evil to gain a little more territory is for good people to do nothing.

            Meanwhile, a recent long-winded and race-related ‘but’ has, over the last few decades, started to blow (anew?) amongst theological circles that I find myself uncomfortably close to.  It goes like this:

            [Disclaimer: the below paragraph represents a theological position I do NOT agree with.]   

            “We assert that race is a construct, that human beings are a single “race,” and that all human beings are made in God’s image.  In addition, we recognize the reality and value of cultural differences, and that all cultures and nations are part of God’s created good order.  It is further God’s plan to work with the various cultures in various ways specific to each, though always rooted in Jesus Christ, as God determines in the grand plan of salvation, which is unfolding in the world through God’s faithfulness in covenant relationships.  We must further observe that God has chosen, in His sovereignty, to deal with some cultures in a special way, as with the Old Testament Israel.  Going forward in time, we recognize that in Christ, these cultural and racial differences are not erased, but maintain existence and value in the present and future Kingdom.  This context and Biblical history mean that all cultures, measured objectively, are not morally equivalent.  Particularly, in the working of salvation history, all cultures do not have equal standing before God with regard to covenants.  It is not true that this means that one culture has the right to elevate itself above any other, except in that certain cultures have received God’s gifts in particular ways that give them special standing in the Kingdom.  Therefore, given the created and persistent differences, and the differential workings of salvation, the various cultural-nations should not be mixed together into some earthly unity.  Instead, ethnic, cultural, and national boundaries should be honored as created distinctions, and these boundaries respected and maintained.  This is not racism, though some would accuse it so, but it is simply recognizing that God created the separations among the cultures as part of His work in the world, as revealed in the Bible.”

            [Disclaimer: the above paragraph represents a theological position I do NOT agree with.]   

            I sincerely hope that after tracking along for a while, at some point you sensed things becoming twisted.  The above paragraph very charitably represents a kind of teaching called “kinism.”  Think “kin,” as in your relatives, your tribe, your nation-culture.  Kinism has become enough of an issue, especially in Reformed circles that tend to emphasize covenant, that two regional groups of churches in my denomination have called on this summer’s denominational meeting to declare kinism heresy.

            Wait, heresy?  Heresy (n) ‘her-Ə-sē: a religious opinion contrary to authoritative religious teaching?  Like if someone were to teach that Jesus was only human and not also fully God – that level of wrong-ness? 

            But here’s the ‘but’ that ought to bother us more than mere kinist teaching.  I will assume, dear readers, that you have followed me thus far, that you are at least uneasy about that long kinist paragraph, and that, if you are a Christian, you have begun to desire a Biblical response to those teachings which identifies where things go wrong.  However, I am worried that most (yes, more than 50%) of the people with whom I interact on a weekly basis will first struggle to formulate such a response; second won’t see the depth of the problem, let alone why kinism should be declared a heresy; and third, that the reason for this struggle is that the majority of people I interact with already share enough beliefs with kinism, particularly in moral-sounding ways of deprecating other ethno-cultures to which, conveniently, they do not belong.

            Look back at that kinist paragraph.  Do you see what “divinely-ordained separation” merely re-words?  Can you draw out the logical next steps for countries and for individuals?  Can you surmise what sorts of social policies result?  Can you refute the above kinist paragraph with Biblical insight?  Take your time here.  Think.  If you don’t eventually start feeling a creeping sense of horror, you haven’t gone far enough.

            To be fair, the first time I read kinist material, I was very disoriented.  Words were used in ways new to me, key labels were unfamiliar, and much of it was cluttered with emotive rhetoric.  It took me some time to understand.

            I think I have begun to, and I wish I had understood more and sooner, but it appears likely that I, too, am in a certain way caught up in the machinations of kinism.

            Here’s where kinism leads, and the kinist material I’ve read is never far from the following (kinism websites are easy to find online, and by reviewing just a few, you could get an idea of the teaching).  According to kinists, because cultural distinctions are God-ordained and maintained, segregation of ethnicities in marriage, in institutions like the church, and of political nations based on shared culture is morally and Biblically warranted.  Further, and conveniently for its proponents, the result of God’s covenants is that people of Anglo-Saxon or northern European descent occupy a superior place in the covenant hierarchy.  Kinism is a haughty tribal statement of “I’m better than you, and God says so” strutting around in a cheap theological suit.

            One possible response to this involves allowing all the assumptions of kinists and then pointing out that as of the year 2000, 62% of Christians worldwide were already non-white and that the percentage has grown since then (68% in 2015, see  Pair that with the erosion of Christianity in Europe and European-descended cultures, and, based on their existing logic, kinists would then have to recognize the higher place of non-whites in the plan of salvation.  Any reluctance to do so unmasks kinism as the theologically-baptized white supremacist thinking it is. 

And that’s the core issue – kinism is nothing more than segregation, apartheid, the doctrine of discovery, and racism in new clothes.  It speaks similar language, uses similar interpretation of the Bible, and has similar practical consequences.  It is even another form of the same “identity politics” it tends to condemn.  Instead of the Bible maintaining a prophetic critical distance over against all earthly cultures in the name of the heavenly one, the good book is used to elevate one or another culture as a fuller embodiment of grace, morality, or salvation, thus feeding human pride in superiority.  Kinism is thus worse than heresy; it is the idolatry of my tribe, and as in all the Biblical prophets, idolatry always breeds oppression and injustice.

Now perhaps all this seems a bit heavy handed for a fringe teaching.  Should Christians ferociously attack every chirp of poor theology?  Perhaps it is enough to keep asserting truth, because falsehoods will always be there to annoy.

But then what do I make of this close cousin of kinism expressed by someone in my church?  The general sentiment was, “Look at our Western medicine, look at our economy, our technology, our moral principles of justice and the rule of law.  We’re better in those areas, but that isn’t an accident and has a root of being either morally superior or divinely-favored or both. Let’s just be who we are and appreciate it.”  Notice the crucial and dangerous leap introduced by the ‘but.’  Even if we believe in God’s sovereignty over history, we need not commit the sin of Babylon (Daniel 4:28-30).  The person wasn’t kinist, but something like a “cultural superiorist.”

And what of another sister church’s elder who stated that a marriage in the congregation didn’t work out, “because he was black, y’know”?  And the fact that kinism seems to have influenced John Earnest, who opened fire at a San Diego synagogue in April?  And that for years a Christian Reformed Church pastor taught kinism, before leaving the CRC under, thankfully, pressure against what he was teaching?

White supremacist thinking is real, it is close by and prevalent, it has in recent years gained license to speak more loudly again, and it has long infected my people and God’s church, locally and globally.

We’ll see if the upcoming national church meeting makes a clear statement about it.  And we’ll see what the people really believe, and if they believe it strongly enough to state the truth as many times as necessary.  Heresy is heresy because a religious community decides it is, and doctrine cannot be disconnected from the people who came up with it and believe it.  And so this summer, more than making theological statements, the Christian Reformed Church will be deciding again what kind of people it is called to be.

But what about you?  Can you refute “kinism” Biblically?

Further reading:

Update from June 2019: