I was saddened by some of the conclusions of Daniel Treier’s article. He attributes the “rabid anti-Communism and (at best) indifference to racism” to “American pugnaciousness.” He repeats this charge by criticizing a “loss of proportion about Communism exacerbated a lack of perspective about racism” (62). First, conflating Communism with anti-racism is obscene. Yes, Communists have exploited America’s racial divides to undermine our system of governance; but around the world, Communist countries are far more racist than the US. And it is hard to argue that anything but “rabid” opposition is justified for a political/economic system that killed 100 million or more of its own people in the twentieth century. For that matter, I fail to see that fundamentalists are any more “indifferent to racism” than mainstream churches. But he goes on to accuse “unbiblical fundamentalism” for five different sins such as failing to “consider it pure joy” when facing possible trials (63). How is this, or any of the other four sins, unique to fundamentalism? A disappointing end to an otherwise interesting article. —Greg Scandlen
I respond as a traditionalist evangelical who is well aware of the evils of Communism, having heard firsthand accounts of such oppression while mentoring graduate students from underground churches in Communist countries. If I were trying to curry favor with a progressive agenda, it would hardly be in my interest to write on such a topic or publish in MR. The reason for attempting a response here, though, is to address two misunderstandings that bear very much on the evangelical future.
The essay did not obscenely “conflate” Communism with anti-racism. Instead, it reflects a well-established historical relationship between two issues. Many fundamentalists were indifferent (at best) about civil rights for African Americans, and some (at worst) opposed that movement as un-American in the face of Communism, rather than seeing it as a biblically (and patriotically) faithful pursuit of equal justice for all. For a further historical example, one major impetus behind the inauguration of Christian schooling in the South was a desire to avoid racially integrated schools. That is a painful acknowledgment to make, since I have championed classical Christian education and served on the board of such a school for five and a half years. I lament a sinfully mixed legacy here not as an outsider but as an insider.
The essay did not make any comparative claims, and hence it did not say that any of these sins were “unique” to fundamentalism. Yet “judgment begins with the household of God,” and so our focus should rest not on whether we can also blame others but on whether our spiritual house is in order. Time would fail me if I started detailing evidence that fear of persecution is a substantial factor in contemporary evangelical politics. As the letter manifests, today even modest statements about the church’s legacy vis-à-vis racism routinely strike a nerve.
Numerous Bible-believing peers and students are expressing dismay over the inconsistency between our forebears’ teaching about Scripture’s moral authority and our movement’s selective, distorted application of it.
Until we conservative evangelicals repent, without evasion, regarding our indifference to racism (among other sins), we will continue to disillusion future generations regarding biblical orthodoxy. By contrast, it does not surprise me that legions overseas are converting to Christ, because the “evangelicals” I encounter from there are so clearly focused on the fullness of the biblical gospel above all else—an ongoing occasion, by God’s mercy, for my repentance. —Daniel J. Trier