Racism and Reputation

Two terms that are tossed about with great liberality today are “racist” and “white supremacist.”  Like other words with specific definitions, such as “fascist” and “Nazi,” these labels are losing their specific social, economic, political, and legal meaning, and have essentially become nondescript slurs thrown at anyone a Progressive disagrees with.

All of these words are routinely used against those who might describe themselves as “conservative,” “traditionalist,” “Christian,” “capitalist,” “patriotic,” or “libertarian.”  This is a clever Orwellian strategy to recast mainstream people as outcasts of society – a carefully crafted linguistic trick to marginalize, dehumanize, and eliminate an opponent by rhetoric and dishonest implication. 

And given the politically correct power of academia, government, and Big Tech, nobody wants to be on the business end of this kind of name-calling.  It has a chilling effect on freedom – and even the ability to hold a job – and thus pushes a totalitarian narrative that is a betrayal of not only our American ethos, but of natural law and Christian anthropology and theology itself.  It is a way to demonize nearly half of the country, and it is almost always based on a lie.

Just to take the first term: “racist.”  What is the concept of “racism”?  Racism is a form of bigotry against a person’s “race.”  The term “race” is not very precise, as the older classifications of humanity into three or four taxonomic groupings is no longer standard.  And so “racism” can mean bigotry against a person based upon his skin tone or other characteristics derived from his ethnicity.  Obviously, a typical seventh generation Norwegian and a typical seventh generation Ethiopian look very different.  Bigotry or hatred against people based on these differences is a clear and reasonable definition of “racism.” 

It is not racism for a Norwegian to cheer on his own Olympic team, or for an Ethiopian to feel at home among people who speak his language and share his culture and history.  Nor is it racism if a Norwegian or an Ethiopian is a Christian or votes for a conservative political candidate.  Nor is it racism if an Ethiopian and a Norwegian disagree with each other in terms of economics or politics.

And as the world has shrunk, and as race-based slavery, segregation, and apartheid (political and social arrangements based on an actual legal arrangement of “white supremacy”) have long since become condemned historical relics, actual racism is likewise drifting into cultural and political insignificance.  Interracial marriages and people of mixed ethnic backgrounds have today become common – even though such marriages were illegal only a few decades ago.  Moreover, there has never been a better time to be black in the West than today.  Thirteen years ago, America elected a black president – even as the black population of the United States is a mere 13% of the population. 

But the term “racism” remains politically and socially powerful and useful.  It is a word of subjective and fluid meaning, and can thus essentially be used by anyone to accuse anyone else of repugnant views – and those views being vilified often have nothing to do with either race or bigotry!

I recently learned that some users of Twitter (I am not on the platform), apparently members of Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod churches – have been throwing the term around to denounce the more conservative members of the synod, accusing our church body of being “institutionally racist.”  And I have also learned that I have been called “racist” by name. 

Again, the term is becoming meaningless.  It has almost been so watered down as to be an adult version of the childhood playground taunt: “poopyhead.”  And yet, the word remains a cudgel that can ruin someone’s life – especially in our “cancel culture” world. 

Applying the actual meaning of the word “racist,” it is as an odd charge to make about me – especially by people whom I have never met.  I was not raised to hate people based on skin tone or ethnicity.  I spent my childhood and some of my teen years talking to people all over the planet via ham radio.  To this day, I have dear friends all around the world, from every continent, of every skin tone, ethnicity, and from diverse religious traditions.  I’m a fan of the international language Esperanto because I enjoy communication and friendships that transcend all such barriers, and believe such contact is godly and edifying to all. 

In my secular, academic, and pastoral careers, I have had colleagues and friends of every ethnicity – many of whom I have been friends with for decades. 

I believe that all people are related to one another, as revealed in the Book of Genesis, and skin tone and differences in appearance of people groups is nothing more than a response to how much sun one receives combined with generational genetic traits. 

If I’m a racist, I’m not a very good one.

As a pastor, I do deal with my parishioners according to their ancestry.  Namely: we are all sinners who inherited our mortal nature from our forebears going back to the Fall.  There is no Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave, white or black where it comes to sin and grace (Gal 3:28).  We don’t segregate people in our sanctuary by ethnicity, and we all drink the Lord’s blood from the same chalice no matter what color we are.

One of my beloved parishioners is a delightful lady from the Caribbean.  She has been my parishioner now for 16 years.  She knew my son from the time he was born.  And when his body was brought into the church 15 years later, she was the first person there.  She mourned with my wife and me.  Our relationship can only be described as one of deep, abiding Christian love.  I am always happy to see her in the pews, and it is my honor to place the Holy Sacrament upon her tongue with the confession: “The body of Christ,” and to hear her “Amen” spoken with her beautiful island dialect.

Maybe I need to brush up on my racist skills, because I seem to be a failure in that department.

And, of course, in the modern Orwellian context, to deny being a racist is evidence of being a racist.  To be white is to be racist.  To be a Christian, conservative, libertarian, and/or traditionalist is to be a racist.  Having no black friends is evidence of racism.  Having black friends is evidence of racism.  Being race-conscious is evidence of racism.  Being color-blind is evidence of racism. 

Precious few people are willing, like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen tale, to point at the naked emperor and state the obvious.

So why is this Twitter-mob calling me racist?  It has nothing to do with race or bigotry.  They don’t even claim as much.  Their beef against me is historiographical.

I’ve been a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for about thirty years.  It is a genealogical society.  It is fraternal, benevolent, and non-political.  Our members include men of all ethnicities – including black members.  What binds us together is descent from at least one member of the Confederate States armed forces in the War Between the States.  And as such, we are proud of the service of our great-grandfathers, and we defend their reputation against slander.  As such, I oppose the iconoclastic removal – whether by governments or by mobs – of historical statues, whether of Confederate or Union soldiers, whether of Davis or Lincoln, whether of Lee and Jackson, or Washington, Jefferson, Mark Twain, and Christopher Columbus.

The study of history includes many “schools” or historical interpretations – which change over time, as different fashions of interpretation come and go.  Historians – at least until recently – debated with one another about cause and effect, about the reliability of historical sources, about the complex nature of human motivation, etc.  This study of the study of history itself is known as “historiography.”  And today, just as in ancient times, historians are subject to influence based on money and power and who is in the ruling class, who won the war, who has the favor and the ear of the ruler, and who has the power to make or break one’s career.  Ancient emperors assured that their court historians made them look good – whether by omitting embarrassing events, by playing up victories, by exaggerating, or even by lying.  And political enemies were even written out of historical memory.

Totalitarian regimes today continue this tradition. 

In America and the West, there is more freedom to write, to challenge, and to dissent – although pressures from moneyed institutions who fund academic research, and now, stifling political correctness, conspire to narrow the window of acceptable historical interpretation.  A historian or professor may well have to lie and sweep historical evidence under the rug in order to keep his job.

And so, some people call me a “racist” because of my historiographical interpretation of the war of 1861-1865, and because of my opposition to removing historical monuments of all eras of American history.

In 2017, I stood with peaceful defenders of the historical monuments in New Orleans.  And when violence broke out, as Antifa activists attacked while the police stood down, I came and conducted a Vespers service and prayed for peace. I gathered men and women of every age and racial/ethnic demographic into a circle and led prayers.  I was, of course, called a “racist” for doing so.  I saw no clergy and nobody leading prayers on the other side of the divide.  Rather, I heard threats and taunts and racial epithets against black allies of the monuments. Instead of crosses, I saw hammers and sickles. In spite of the heavy Roman Catholic presence in New Orleans, not one clergyman was there except me.  The Archbishop could have shown up to call for peace, but he was nowhere to be found – even when a monument to the poet-priest Father Abram Ryan was painted with red paint and smeared with human feces.  The Archbishop said nothing other than advocating the monuments’ removal, and all from the safety of his office.  He did nothing to promote peace, probably because his desire to see the monuments removed was served by the violence that his absence promoted.  And this is why the mayor ordered the police to do nothing as the mob attacked. 

I had ancestors on both sides of the War Between the States, and have studied a lot over the years – primary sources and dissenting views that are seldom read in school.  It is my belief that secession was an entirely constitutional remedy for growing federal power, and that taking up arms against an armed foreign invader was an honorable act.  The evidence is overwhelming that the ordinary solder on both sides fought for his country and not for “social justice” issues.  Obviously, in the 19th century, Americans of both regions were “racist” by today’s standards, and slavery was legal and practiced in both the north and the south.  Leaders of both the USA and the CSA included slaveholders, and advocates of slavery, as well as non-slaveholders and opponents of slavery.  Free blacks and slaves alike wore the gray uniform, and some were even under arms.  The much-maligned Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest had dozens of slaves who voluntarily fought under his command to the end of the war.

Our racial history in Louisiana is even more complex, with wealthy black slaveholders and even black officers in the service of the state militia.  Our slaveholding class generally opposed secession and wanted to maintain the status quo.  They were overwhelmingly outvoted in the secession convention.  During the war, invading Union officers were shocked to find that some of our large sugar plantations with hundreds of slaves were owned by free black women.  History often defies facile deductions and summaries that fit on a bumper sticker.

Obviously, people approach history in different ways – whether it is from the perspective of the Federalists vs. the Antifederalists, various arguments about the economic cause of the Great Depression, and trying to figure out the long term effects of World War I on politics, economics, and western culture.  For actual academic work to occur, there must be academic freedom and free debate.  And for a free society to prosper, there must be freedom of speech.

A few years ago, I had a cyber-stalker accuse me of racism.  He harassed me and some of our lay leadership by means of anonymous emails – which we quickly identified by means of the IP address.  He placed the “racist” label on me, not for any negative words or actions against anyone for any reason, but because I am a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  After months of harassment – including being sent several emails of footage of Hitler’s Kristallnacht (when houses of worship were blown up) in the hours leading up to our annual Christmas Eve Midnight Mass – he decided to “dox” me.  He accused me of “racism” to my district president (bishop), our synod president (archbishop), and to my colleagues of an ecclesiastical journal that I write for, and others.  Nobody took the bait.

He then wrote to the general headquarters of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – using a form on the website.  He claimed to be me, using my name and email address as the signature line, and then proceeded to tell lies, including that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.  In order to try to get me accused of racism, he had to actually engage in deliberate and open falsehood.  Why this didn’t make him check his premises is beyond me.  If you have to lie to cast someone as a racist, maybe that person isn’t a racist. 

At any rate, the church website sent me an automated reply that included “my” email.  The IT Department shared the IP address of the sending computer, and it was indeed my cyber-stalker.  Online impersonation is a crime in the State of Louisiana, and so I went to the police.  My accuser was arrested and spent the night in jail until he could raise bail.  He was charged with two crimes.  We went to court.  He was ordered to undergo three years of counseling, pay fines including my legal fees, and has been ordered to comply with a court order under penalty of being re-charged with the original charges.

And all of this was not because of even the accusation of racial bigotry, but because of my opinions about American history.  That is how cancel culture works.

And so, if anyone could send me screenshots and/or identify my recent accusers on Twitter, I would be grateful.  I will defend my reputation in accordance with the Eighth Commandment.  To attack the pastor’s reputation is to attack the congregation’s reputation – including all of the individual members.  This accusation is also an attack on my Caribbean parishioner.  It is the pastor’s job to defend the flock and to go after the wolves with a stick.  If my accuser is a rostered church worker, such as a pastor, I will seek a meeting with that person’s district president.  If he is a layman, I will contact his or her pastor and will consider legal action.  I have no qualms about wielding the shepherd’s crook.  It’s part of my calling.

Although the word “racism” has essentially lost its meaning, the ability to stir up hatred and even violence against our congregation by its use is a serious matter.  I will come after such a person.

Christians must not tolerate “cancel culture” and its underlying philosophy of Critical Theory (including Critical Race Theory) and Cultural Marxism to take root in the church.  This is a manifestation of the weeds sown by Satan to divide our people and to cripple our ability to cast the seeds of the Gospel (Matt 13:24-43).  It is based on lies, and the father of lies is the same Satan who sews the weeds in our Lord’s parable.  We must insist that words have meaning, or else our ability to even read the Word of God and understand it is in peril.  We must defend those who are falsely accused, even if it draws the accusing finger to point at us too.  In every system in which words lose their meaning and people are dehumanized for holding the “wrong” historiography or political or economic beliefs, we see the hand of the devil and the attempt to silence the Word of God.  Historically, we also see bulldozed churches and innocent people being sent to labor camps or shot.

The time to resist this is now.

Pastors especially must be diligent and go on the attack against any such attempts to introduce chaos and suspicion and the destruction of reputations that are clearly aimed at harming the proclamation of the Gospel and destroying the lives of our brothers and sisters.  As followers of the Word (John 1:1), we have an obligation to hold the users of words to the objective meaning of those words, and to disallow a subjective and deceptive use of language for the purpose of harassment and false accusation. 

As we recite in our catechism concerning the commandment “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” we Lutherans know by heart: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

This is most certainly true.

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