It was both jarring and disheartening. I am referring to the surreptitious video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers singing a “song of hate” filled with pejorative racist language as well as degrading epithets and threating statements referencing horrid acts of the past century designed to intimidate African-Americans. It was absolutely deflating and I confess that even though I have watched it three times, I have not been able to view it in its entirety.
Before attempting to give some observations from a Biblical perspective I need to confess that my inability to process this with some level of objectivity is at least partially due to the fact that I am blessed to have 8 grandchildren and 3 are African-American. I cannot tell you how grateful I was that that none of my grandchildren were in the room when this video popped up on a news channel as a “tease” of what was coming up after the commercial. Therefore, I was given an opportunity to prepare them as to how, as believers, they need to view this (for what it is) and respond to it with the clarity of God’s Word, the fruit of the Spirit and the triumph of Christ.
A brief overview…
How could something like this exist in our country given what seems to be the significant “racial progress” over the last fifty years? The sing-along song displaying unvarnished racial animus was sung by supposedly accomplished college students during the same week that the moving and emotional events memorializing the extraordinary courage of the participants of the Selma march 50 years ago were being observed and experienced. Not to mention the still raw emotions swirling around the challenging events of the past year as our nation attempts to navigate the relational and legal dynamics of local police departments and the African-American community.
A few observations…
1. Progress - I am grateful that the overwhelming response throughout our country is one of horror, incredulity and disciplinary action. One of the reasons for this reaction of gratification is because it was not many years ago this video would have had a mixed response of anger by some and callous amusement by others.
2. Law – I am also grateful for the right use of good law for establishing beneficial public policy relating to the protection of the Constitutional rights of each and every citizen. While not all civil rights legislation has been good and/or necessary, it is undeniable that some laws were necessary to protect the unalienable rights of African-Americans and restrain those who would attempt to deny (i.e. alienate) their rights because they are African-Americans. The response to this event by the University of Oklahoma, in particular, and the culture in general, is a testimony to the blessing of good laws which not only protect and restrain but also, by their existence, declare the ideals and values of a country. Laws designed to protect the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution and restrain those who would deny them are absolutely right, appropriate and necessary. But legal initiatives restraining the objectives of racism in the culture and also displaying the values and ideals of a culture are incapable of changing the hearts of racists and therefore incapable of eradicating racism. The heart of the problem with all sin (including racism) is the problem with the heart. Laws in a society protect people, establish cherished ideals in the culture of the society and restrain evil doers. But laws cannot remove sin because they cannot change hearts. The revulsion that this video has produced and the rapid responses reveal the benefits of good law. But, the song in content and the universal, frivolous participation of those who sang it tells us that while racism has been shamed in the public arena by good laws it has not (and cannot) erase it from the heart. Therefore, while such racist sing-alongs are no longer in the public square, racist hearts will still be revealed by what comes out of the heart and will seek new venues to revel in sinful and sophisticated stupidity – even in a frat party sing along.
3. Biblically faithful theology and a Bible-shaped world view are crucial. The present theological battle in the church to maintain the Biblical doctrine of creation and the historicity of Adam and Eve is important for multiple reasons. One reason is they provide an effective and God honoring foundation to confront racism by rejecting the Darwinian mythology of multiple races. A Biblical world view, when embraced in a “renewed mind,” will agree with the Scripture in general and the Apostle Paul in particular. In Acts 17, Paul is defending the faith in the intellectual capital of the world – Athens – and in the heart of its worship center – the Areopagus.
“That God who made the world and everything in it….. and He made from one man (Adam) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Acts 17: 24 ff.
In one distillation and declaration of Biblical truth he affirms the God-established presence of the nations of the world as well as the reality that all humanity, while found in multiple cultures and nations, is actually one race – the human race – with one father (Adam) – the historical Adam and Eve. Racism is not only sinful but is also an act of stupidity because…
- There is only one race. Therefore to be a racist is at best an act of sinful ignorance and at worst, an act of willing sinful ignorance.
- A racist must embrace the multiple lies of Darwinian evolutionary claims concerning origins, which is both bad science and by definition non-science.
- Affirming the importance of intentionally developing a Bible-shaped world and life view through a “renewed mind” leading to a “transformed life,” instead of a life “conformed to this world is absolutely crucial.”
4. The Gospel – The Gospel alone – the “message of reconciliation” delivered by a “ministry of reconciliation” – is the only answer to heart-sins. Law restrains, declares values and reveals how helpless we are apart from the Gospel of Grace in Christ to save us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. Remember the heart of the problem is the problem with the heart and the Gospel alone has the power to change the hearts of men and women thereby eradicating the heart of the problem. The sins of bigotry can be forgiven and the heart of bigotry can by God’s grace be transformed. Exhibit one – the Apostle Paul. Not only was Paul, once the killer of Christians, forgiven, he also was transformed and became one of the greatest evangelists whom the Lord used to multiply Christians. He was a persecutor of the church but was forgiven and became the greatest church planter in the history of the church. He was a relentless Gentile hater as a Jewish Pharisee but became the Apostle to the Gentiles, taking a Gentile name and embracing Timothy, a Gentile from a Gentile father as his “adopted son” in the Lord.
5. Leadership works - Good leadership produces good results and bad leadership produces bad results. If you look closely at the video you will see “a leader” and the followers. This observation does not absolve those who were led into participating but simply affirms that leadership matters. Interestingly, some who participated have already stepped out to apologize and confess. What if another leader had stepped up at that moment to challenge the song, its content and intent? Perhaps, those who were on the edge but ended up “going along” would have been moved in the direction of what is good, right, excellent and virtuous. So, the question to my brothers and sisters but most of all to me is – Would I have been “strong and courageous” by God’s grace, for God’s glory and displayed as well as persuaded others to pursue “a more excellent way?”
6. Character – Finally, while realizing many are debating the legal issues of the President of the University of Oklahoma, I personally believe standards of conduct must be maintained even in a state university. But there remains a question that must be asked of the SAE fraternity and the University – including the President, Board and Administration. I know to enter into the University and/or the fraternity you must have means (money) and you must have displayed academic competency and achievement. But what about character? Lest you think I am out of touch with reality, I challenge you to go and research the entrance requirements to Colleges and fraternities just 75 years ago. See the depth and penetrating nature of the questions concerning character and demonstrated habits of life which saturated the entrance examination process. This is a character issue as well as a heart issue – not just a violation of politically correct speech.
We thank the Lord that in His Providence we have seen (since the mid-19th century) laws that confront the racism and prejudice that attempts to deny the “unalienable rights” of all citizens in general and the confrontation of systemic racism against African-Americans in particular. And while thanking the Lord for laws that set virtuous cultural ideals which protect the equality of each and every citizen we also know these Laws cannot change hearts. But the Gospel does.
But hearts are only changed through Gospel evangelism and discipleship focused upon a Christ-centered and Bible-shaped Life-view, leading to a Christ-centered and Bible-shaped Life-style, motivated by a Christ-centered and Bible-informed Life-love -the love of Christ compels us.
This Gospel of Grace gloriously liberates us from the penalty of our sins (including bigotry and racism); it definitively liberates us from the power of our sins (including bigotry and racism); it increasingly liberates us from the practice of our sins (including bigotry and racism). And it must be displayed in the covenant community of the King, our Lord and Savior – His Church.
This is what I long for my three African-American grandchildren to see and hear. More than that this is what I long for the world to see and hear – from us who know Christ as Lord and Savior – most importantly from me.