The Battle of James White: How Intersectionality Works in Practice.

 

The date was June 22, 2019.  James White from Alpha and Omega ministries posts a tweet that ignites the twitterverse in controversy.  Here’s what happened, if you are a reformed-minded Christian and your phone battery has been dead since Saturday.

Dr. White took to the internet with the following tweet.

 

Among the first to respond was Joel McDurmon firing back with a tweet of his own.

That was the beginning of the epic battle that ensued between the woke and the un-woke.  The mele reminded me of many medieval, Lord of the Rings type, slow-motion battle scenes where a large army charges at a small battalion of wearied warriors. The dust from the ground trailed behind the speeding war horses and the deafening shouts of the soldiers drowned out the pounding of the hooves on the ground until the first of the cavalry crashed into a cobbled phalanx of broken shields with the cacophony of steel on steel.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic.

It was, however, a very poignant example of how intersectionality works, which is somewhat apropos given the recent discussions regarding Resolution 9 that was recently ratified at the SBC annual meeting.

I will grant that some of the objections lobbed at Dr. White had some legitimacy, despite being hurled quite mercilessly.

For example:

  • It is true, in my opinion, that Dr. White’s tweet was hastily worded.
  • It is true, in my opinion, that the tweet did not provide sufficient context or sufficiently cite the statistical source or sources.
  • It is true, in my opinion, that Dr. White could have shared his thoughts on a different platform that allows for a more complex evaluation of the issue.
  • It is true, in my opinion, that the situation is not quite as simple as the dichotomy Dr. White presented.

I don’t think that anyone who has been on Twitter for more than five minutes can say they haven’t done at least one of the above.

Nevertheless, a good number of the responses were essentially a form of, “how dare you!” “You have no right to talk about that/our community!”

The emotional energy behind the responses shows that intersectionality has a pretty firm grip on the evangelical mind.  The responses to Dr. White also demonstrate the antithesis of what Resolution 9 from the recent SBC annual convention claims can be true of intersectionality.

Tom Ascol, a messenger present at the convention, cited his caution to the amendment only to be reassured by the Resolutions Committee that both Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are both useful tools to help us understand and explain the world around us.

Ascol reports that that Chairman Woods clarified the intent of the Resolutions Committee with the following words:

“It is our aspiration in this resolution simply to say that Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are simply analytical tools. They are meant to be used as tools, not as a worldview. ” (Resolution 9 and the Southern Baptist Convention 2019, Founders.org)

The Twitter battle of June 22 clearly demonstrates that Intersectionality is more than an explanatory tool, it is a tool used in service to an agenda and that agenda has a lot to do with determining who gets to talk about certain things and who doesn’t.  James White is a Caucasian man from Phoenix, AZ.  He doesn’t get to have an opinion about the rate of abortion amongst the African American community.  According to Critical Theory, he is part of the “oppressor” group and therefore his role is to listen and learn until his opinions change and then he can speak, but only as an “ally,” which means he must always toe the party line.  According to intersectional thinking, he is dealing with a topic that involves people with a much higher index of oppression than himself, which means he can’t, or shouldn’t, try to engage the topic critically.  He may support views that are otherwise intersectionally approved but he dare not speak out of turn and if he does that will inevitably be used to accuse him of racism.

Essau McCaulley, Assistant professor of NT at Wheaton College illustrated intersectionality with his veiled response to James White’s tweet.

According to Prof. McCaulley, Dr. White is out of his lane when talking about issues that affect African Americans.

Mark Lamprecht, responding to Kofi Adu-Boahen’s comment, asked a pretty compelling question that is quite relevant to the discussion.

Who is Prof. McCaulley referring to when he talks about his community? It seems likely that Prof. McCaulley is talking about the African American community in his tweet and he is more than insinuating that Dr. White’s opinion isn’t worth hearing.  We see intersectional thinking employed as more than a mere tool of explanation here.  Clearly, Prof. McCaulley’s appeal to intersectional categories was designed to disqualify Dr. White’s thoughts, not on the basis of what Dr. White said, but because Dr. White is outside Prof. McCaulley’s community.  Again, I agree with Kofi’s insinuation that Dr. White’s tweet could have been more artfully worded, but with respect to Prof. McCaulley, abortion isn’t an African American issue.

Abortion is a human issue, its a moral issue, and it is an issue that all Christians, regardless of the color of their skin, should be praying about, speaking about, and tweeting about because babies of all skin color are being exterminated every day.

More than this, the “explanatory tool” of intersectionality has, at least in this instance, become quite a powerful force in identifying who is, and who is not, part of one’s community.  The appeal to intersectional thinking in Prof. McCaulley’s tweet has, probably very unintentionally, displaced the common identity that we all share as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Consider the Apostle Peter’s words:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

I find two things very interesting in these verses.  First, as Christians, our γενος (translated “race”) is determined by our chosenness, not our skin color.  Second, our εθνος (translated “nation”) is a function of our being set apart for God’s purposes rather than determined by human lineage.

Peter is very clearly reminding us that our primary racial identity is determined by our election (as reformed theology understands that term) and our primary ethnicity is the holy εθνος of God.  Once we were not a people of God and worldly criteria, like the amount of melanin in our skin, dominated our identity.  However, we are now God’s people, His children, and whatever possible explanatory help intersectionality may bring to the table, we cannot let said insights elevate worldly means of determining identity over and above the identity that God has given us in Christ.  In other words, the Bible has the power to define “our community,” intersectional thought does not.

That means that Dr. White is Prof. McCaulley’s “community.”  We should be addressing the moral issues of our day out of our sense of unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, not out of a sense of our intersectionality which draws dividing lines (pun intended) where the bible doesn’t.

Regarding the abortion holocaust, we must recognize that the skin tone of the mother and the skin tone of the unborn child are trivial matters compared to the reality that the child whose life is being taken is created in the image of God.

Yes, we must be careful how we pose our questions lest we cause unnecessary offense but we must also have a responsibility to confront hard truths and do so with the courage of affirming biblical truths.

This little intersectional tempest in a teacup will subside soon and most of us will go back to posting funny memes but unless we take a good hard look at how Intersectionality is shaping our interactions with one another, we may start to notice that the voices that are shamed into silence aren’t the voices we disagree with anymore.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: