June 3, 2014
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Case for Reparations not only draws attention to individual injustices, but also paints a portrait of communal sin.
Good, articulate work, BKJ! After reading the Atlantic piece, I kept thinking Coates was making a public argument for total depravity in American society. (Interesting to read Richard Rorty's counter-arguments to such theses in Achieving Our Country. He complains about critical theory's tendency to locate social problems that look suspiciously like sin.) Coates creates a platform for the question, â€œHow shall we be saved?â€ I feel grateful for your reflections on original sin and the nature of complicitness.
It does seem that for Ta-Nehisi Coates racism has assumed the centrality in our sinful condition that pride has for Augustine. Not sure what to make of that. At times, for all the enormity of our racismâ€”for all its undeniable pervasiveness in our society and historyâ€”it can feel a little arbitrary to zero in on this as The American Sin. Ecological wrongs feel just about as equally pervasive. As do patriarchal ones.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I watched an interview Coates did with Melissa Harris-Perry where she raised a similar question (although she didn't frame it in terms of Sin or Depravity) and asked if the same thing might be argued for women. His response was we should certainly consider it. This makes me think he might say that he doesn't think racism isn't the only or even the most important problem, but it's the one he's called to think about.
This piece makes me think about how the church itself is called to be a new society in the midst of the powers that be. Given that there was a policy that incentivized white flight (if I understand things correctly), it seems that a counter-policy that incentivizes revitalization and real integration would be just. But regardless of that policy, it seems to me that Christians of all ethnicities should be interested and invested in justice. Christ has broken down the wall between Jew and Gentile, so our unwillingness as the church to embody a different way of life isn't just a regrettable ethical mistake; it's missing the reality of the Gospel. If governmental policy can incentivize us to do something that the Gospel can't, we should probably give up the label of "Christian."
Branson, I like your view toward a harmonious, diverse community of people who are equal in Christ. We certainly need that!
Part of what makes this whole situation so tricky is the economics of it, and that justice is harder for us to figure as a church apart from the larger society, because charity might help where laws fall short, but there is a significant difference between money given and money owed.
This long-standing situation of sin in our society may require both living in ways that point to God's kingdom, and speaking out like the prophets about injustices.
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