Both classical Marxism (Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Lenin) and cultural Marxism (Gramsci, Lukács, Sartre, and Marcuse) assert that social progress is the result of conflict between humans. Man is a product of nature, “a three-dimensional lump of flesh, blood, and bone,” on which the iron laws of nature do their irresistible work. The difference between humanity and the rest of nature is that he is a toolmaker; he fashions tools for his survival and enjoyment within nature. Those tools can be anything from a primitive club to an advanced iPhone. For classical Marxists, the people who get control over the tools dominate those who do not control them. They even create ideas (“ideology”) to justify their domination and to pacify those whom they oppress. In Marx’s day, the oppressors were the bourgeoisie (elites, business owners), and the oppressed were the proletariat (employees, “wage slaves”). But since the law of history is on the side of the oppressed, who will eventually overthrow any oppression that keeps them alienated from “their true selves,” the days of bourgeoisie dominance are numbered. They will increasingly initiate conflict — unremitting conflict, violent if necessary — until the oppression stops. This is a feature of “dialectical materialism”: inherent imbalances at all levels in society mean that constant change and conflict are necessary. Conflict = progress. Because Marxists have commandeered the progressive agenda of liberalism in the last century, all leading progressives today revel in conflict. Fostering conflict is the name of the game.
The cultural (Western) Marxists like György Lukács extended this philosophy to include noneconomic features, which generate groups: sex and race, for example. Oppression is everywhere. It is pervasive and systemic. The goal of the progressives, who are the best of us, of course, and therefore hating all oppression, is to stamp it out everywhere. Women must be liberated from men, children from parents, homosexuals from heterosexuals, blacks and Hispanics from whites and Asians, laity from clergy, students from teachers, the mentally “challenged” from the allegedly sane, and convicts from law-abiding citizens. Hierarchy itself is oppression, so war on hierarchy is a war for the Good Society. This is the Marxist agenda.
Racial Conflict as Gospel Progress?
In the United States, with its tragic history of black slavery, the appeal to racial liberation is especially attractive. Christians are perhaps the most sensitive to the Marxist message because they know the Bible’s abomination of man-stealing (Ex. 21:16) and its teaching that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, race is vanquished by grace (Gal. 3:28). Antebellum slavery, like the slavery in Africa today, is reprehensible. Redressing the grievances of that massive sin is an agenda for which Christians should quickly line up.
Exploiting this vulnerability has long been a tactic of Marxists, for whom persistent social conflict, “permanent revolution” (Trotsky), is the mechanism of progress. Black pastor and member of the Gospel Coalition Thabiti Anyabwile (aka Ron Burns) ignited a firestorm when he wrote in an article commemorating Martin Luther King’s assassination:
I’m saying the entire [white?] society killed Dr. King. This society had been slowly killing him all along. … . My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start [repenting] by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice. [emphasis original]
Pastor Anyabwile is a professed evangelical, but he puts into motion Lukács’ thesis that people must think in terms of “class consciousness.” Today we call this “identity politics.” Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but Pastor Anyabwile demands that that we judge people by the color of their skin. Because skin color (like creational sexuality) cannot be changed, it is a suitable subject for Marxism’s program of progress by conflict. The progress toward the Good Society can never end. There will always be oppressors to upend. Since neither whites nor blacks can change their skin, racial conflict will be part of the permanent revolution.
Inherent imbalances at all levels in society mean that constant change and conflict are necessary. Conflict = progress. Because Marxists have commandeered the progressive agenda of liberalism in the last century, all leading progressives today revel in conflict. Fostering conflict is the name of the game.
Pastor Anyabwile, rebutting those of his critics pointing to his cultural Marxism, reminds us that racism preceded Marx. How this assertion has any relevance whatsoever he does not explain. The issue is not that Marx invented race or racism (which has plagued human history as long as race has been around) but that Pastor Anyabwile exploits race in a manner consistent with cultural Marxism. He complains that racism is a unique sin among whites in that they refuse to confess it as sin. He trumpets:
I cannot think of a single particular sin people would encourage someone to avoid confessing except for the sin of racism…. There’s another reason we should be specific: the Bible is specific. Consider the places where the Bible gives us a catalogue of particular sins (Rom. 1:28-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; and 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Why does the divinely inspired Word of God give us so many lists with such specificity? It’s not solely that we might conclude we are sinners in general but that we might also know what sins threaten our souls or our sanctification and repent of them specifically.
The Bible is truly clear in calling specific sins what they are, but interestingly, Pastor Anyabwile does not show us where the Bible specifically declares racism a sin. There is a good reason for this. The Bible doesn’t. That racism is a sin must (and should) be inferentially derived. Pride is a sin (Pr. 16:18; Rom. 1:30). Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Racism fundamentally is a belief, not an act. It is rooted in pride, which is a grievous sin. It would have been helpful if Christians who (rightly) decry racism show why it is specifically a sin. The depth of this sin rests in pride. Pride, not the amount of melanin in human skin, is the culprit.
The gospel is a peace-creating message. It creates harmony among individuals, families, sexes, races, and nations. The gospel is a conflict-reducer, not a conflict-creator. In sharp contrast with Paul, however, Pastor Anyabwile employs race as a tool by which to perpetuate conflict.
Since racism is a belief, it is a sin of the heart, like lust or covetousness. It cannot be seen. It can only be objectively detected by others when manifested in one’s actions. Apartheid in South Africa was such a sinful manifestation. So is today’s post-apartheid state-sanctioned murder of white farmers by blacks. To call for repentance of the sin of racism is to call for a humble heart. That repentance can only be ascertained by changed (non-racist) actions.
The call by Pastor Anyabwile to white Christians to claim their “parents and grandparents and this country” were complicit in murdering MLK is so obviously ridiculous that we can only assume he was employing hyperbole for shock value. The Bible does teach collective guilt for ancestors’ sin but only among those who presently agree with that sin (Mt. 23:35), or who have not yet confessed ancestral sin for godless actions, like idolatry (2 Kin. 22). There are, to my knowledge, no examples in the Bible of a godly preacher’s assigning collective guilt for ideas or sins of the heart. This assignment is God’s province alone.
Racial Peace as Gospel Blessing
Assigning guilt to an entire class (like whites) by which to perpetuate conflict is a quintessentially Marxist technique. The biblical gospel, by contrast, creates peace (Col. 1:20–24), including peace among races:
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Eph. 2:11–16)
The gospel is a peace-creating message. It creates harmony among individuals, families, sexes, races, and nations. The gospel is a conflict-reducer, not a conflict-creator. In sharp contrast with Paul, however, Pastor Anyabwile employs race as a tool by which to perpetuate conflict. He calls white Christians to repent of sin of the heart that he cannot possibly detect, and he blames their ancestors for complicity in a murder they obviously did not commit. He does this in the name of the gospel — The Gospel Coalition even.
It is not actually the gospel that Pastor Anyabwile is advocating. Rather, it is the gospel fused with dialectical materialism, the gospel of conflict. There is little hope that the conflict will end:
This is a sick society. And we kid ourselves if we think all the sickness gets healed just by time and rest. Racism, prejudice, hatred and bigotry is not a cold. It’s a cancer. It mutates. It metastasizes. And despite our protest and insistence otherwise, this sickness gets passed on in a kind of social hereditary action, sometimes unconsciously and unsuspected, sometimes systemically, and sometimes intentionally and virulently.
In short, Pastor Anyabwile holds out little hope in the power of the Gospel. The gospel abolishes (Paul’s language) racial enmity, “creat[ing] in [Jesus Christ] one new man.” Pastor Anyabwile declares that racial conflict is “a cancer. It mutates. It metastasizes”; but this conflict is precisely what the gospel will abolish. Stirring up racial conflict by recklessly and ridiculously suggesting that “[m]y white neighbors and Christian brethren can start [repenting] by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering” MLK is the opposite of gospel peace making. If individuals are racists, they should indeed repent, but assuming an entire race is racist is itself a racialist interpretation of history championed by cultural Marxism.
That, too, is a sin worth repenting of.