Martin Luther King Jr. preached The Drum Major Instinct on February 4, 1968, exactly two months before he died. In it he describes the longing for significance in the human heart, ways in which that longing is dangerous, and how Jesus repurposes that longing. He preached this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. All quotes are from Dr. King.
I. The Drum Major Instinct Defined
He introduces the passage for the sermon from Mark 10:
Beginning with the thirty-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words: “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ And they said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’
He begins with a caution:
…before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct.
He defines the Drum Major Instinct:
We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.
II. The Drum Major Instinct Illustrated
He then gives three illustrations the Drum Major Instinct. It begins early:
… we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention.
B. Social Clubs
It’s the reason some people will join social clubs:
Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance.
It’s the reason why we are susceptible to advertisements:
[Advertisers] have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car.
D. Keeping up with the Joneses
It’s the reason many of us live above our means:
Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? (Amen) [laughter] You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford.
III. The Danger of the Drum Major Instinct
Left unchecked, the Drum Major instinct is harmful:
… if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality.
For some people, it leads to self-importance and boasting:
Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves.
B. Influence Peddling
For some people, it leads to bragging about the important people they know:
There are some people who are influence peddlers. And in their attempt to deal with the drum major instinct, they have to try to identify with the so-called big-name people.
It can even lead to committing acts of crime:
And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention… They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important
Tragically, it leads to diminishing and using others:
he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up.
E. Snobbish Exclusivism
It leads to taking pride in being on the in while keeping others on the out:
The danger is that they can become forces of classism and exclusivism where somehow you get a degree of satisfaction because you are in something exclusive.
F. Race Prejudice
It leads to devaluing others on the basis of race:
Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first.
IV. The Drum Major Instinct at the National Level
The same dynamic operates can operate at the National level:
And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy.
He references the potentially deadly consequences of Nuclear War:
If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere.
He turns his focus to America:
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war.
He shares his fear for the future of America:
Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.
V. The Drum Major Instinct, Repurposed
So what was Jesus really saying? He didn’t rebuke them for wanting to be great, he redefined greatness itself:
One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, “You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?”
But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different.
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
VI. The Life of True Greatness, Illustrated
There was a man who lived a long time ago. He lived a relatively simple life:
…he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old… He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness.
This man was the most influential in all of history:
Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life
VII. What He Would Like at His Funeral
He concludes with a reflection on what he would not like people to say at his funeral.
A. What He Would Not Like
He would not like to be known for his accomplishments:
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
B. What He Would Like
He would rather like to be known for serving others:
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice.
King Jr., Martin Luther. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper & Row, 1986.
The Sun Does Shine (2018) by Anthony Ray Hinton is the inspiring and tragic autobiographical account of a man who spent three decades on death row for a murder that he didn’t commit. This is one of my favorite passages from the book. He describes his change of heart on death row at a pivotal moment:
I was on death row not by my own choice, but I had made the choice to spend the last three years thinking about killing McGregor and thinking about killing myself. Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. I may not have had as many as Lester had, but I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.
“Hey!” I walked up to my cell door and yelled toward the crying man. “Are you all right over there?”
There was nothing but silence. Maybe I was too late.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked again.
“No,” he finally answered.
“Is something wrong? Do you need me to call for an officer or something?”
“No, he just left.”
I stood at the bars. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. It was weird to hear my own voice on the row. I only spoke during visits. I wondered if the man was as surprised as I was to hear me speak. I guess he didn’t want to talk about it. I started to walk back to my bed, but then I thought about what he had been saying when he was sobbing. Please help me. I can’t take it anymore.
I walked back up to the door. “Hey, man. Whatever it is, it’s going to be all right. It’s going to be okay.”
I waited. It had to be another five minutes before he spoke.
“I just … I just got word … that my mom died.”
I could hear him trying to hold back the tears as he talked.
I can’t describe exactly what it is to have your heart break open, but in that moment, my heart broke wide open and I wasn’t a convicted killer on death row; I was Anthony Ray Hinton from Praco. I was my mama’s son.
“I’m sorry, man. I really am.”
He didn’t say anything back, and then I heard a guy yell from down below me, “Sorry for your loss.” And then another from the left side of me yelled, “Sorry, man. Rest in peace.” Nobody else was talking before that, but they had been listening too. How could you not hear him crying? I didn’t have to think about people all around the world sitting on the edge of their beds and crying when there were almost two hundred men all around me who didn’t sleep, just like me. Who were in fear just like me. Who wept just like all of us. Who felt alone and afraid and without hope.
I had a choice to reach out to these men or to stay in the dark alone. I walked over to my bed and got on my hands and knees. I reached my arm under the bed and felt around through the dust and dirt until the tips of my fingers brushed against my Bible. It had been under there for too long. This man had lost his mom, but I still had mine, and she wouldn’t care for my Bible to be collecting filth. Even here, I could still be me. I walked back up to the cell door.
“Listen!” I yelled. “God may sit high, but he looks low. He’s looking down here in the pit. He’s sitting high, but he’s looking low. You’ve got to believe it.” I had to believe it too (pp. 115-117).
Hinton, Anthony Ray, and Lara Love Hardin. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. Kindle Edition. St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
“For too long, many in the Church have argued that unity in the body of Christ across ethnic and class lines is a separate issue from the gospel. There has been the suggestion that we can be reconciled to God without being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture doesn’t bear that out. We only need to examine what happened when the Church was birthed to see exactly how God intends for this issue of reconciliation within the body of Christ to fall out (p. 33).”
Ch. 2: One Race, One Blood
“There’s only one race, but over time we’ve elevated things like skin color, hair texture, language, and ethnicity to a level where they become the main criteria we use to judge entire groups of people. And then we take those classifications and assign them values that we use to include or exclude, to normalize or stereotype, to celebrate or denigrate. We use these things to determine who we hire, the boundaries of neighborhoods, who gets pulled over by police, the length of prison sentences, and on it goes (p. 53).“
Ch. 3: A Lament for our Broken Past
“Perhaps the strongest indictment against us as the Church is that we have settled for an Americanized version of the Church that mirrors whatever culture says, and there is no collective sense of loss, no sense of remorse. We have sinned deeply. The problem is that we haven’t got a taste of the sinfulness of racism… We don’t see the wickedness of profiling God’s people that He has created to be one and that He has created in His image (p. 75).“
Ch. 4: The Healing Balm of Confession
“Many of my white brothers and sisters may need to confess denying that racism exists, choosing to ignore the implications of privilege, and at times acting to reinforce a double standard (p. 89).“
Ch. 5: Forgiveness: It’s In our DNA
“Nelson Mandela has been rightly celebrated. After being imprisoned for twenty-seven years many expected him to emerge consumed with a lust for revenge. But instead of spewing calls for revenge, he urged his people to work for reconciliation. He invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest. And instead of a bloodbath, the world saw the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). People who had committed the most heinous crimes were given amnesty in exchange for a full disclosure of the facts of the offense (p. 105).“
Ch. 6: Tear Down This Wall!
“If we have been silent and have chosen to ignore the mistreatment of others in the past, we should begin to speak up and challenge injustices. If we were racist and bigoted in our speech and actions, there should be a radical change that is observable. If we have been angry and spiteful toward the other, there should be a radical change that is observable. And, yes, if we have an abundance of wealth and we have the opportunity to use this blessing to encourage those we have previously been prejudiced against, we should open our hands in Christian love and brotherhood (p. 117).“
Ch. 7: God Don’t Want No Coward Soldiers
“My friend Bill Pannell is another one of those heroes. In 1968 he wrote My Friend, the Enemy. It shook the evangelical world. Many of his white friends who read the book did not believe that he wrote it, because the life that he wrote about was foreign to them. What it revealed was that “it was possible for a white person to call Bill a close friend and still know little of a black man’s life in a white world.” (p. 137).“
Ch. 8: Prayer, The Weapon of Warfare
“William Pannell said in one of his sermons that the ugliest four-letter word in the English vocabulary is them.4 It’s a word that separates and divides. It’s important that we know their names. It’s really hard to dislike someone you pray for regularly (p. 153).“
Ch. 9: The Greatest Of These Is Love
“One of those very special friend relationships has been with Wayne Gordon… We decided that we need to talk and pray for each other every day. We’ve been doing life together like this for more than thirty years now. We decided a long time ago that we were going to link arms together—one black brother and one white brother—we would see where God would take us (p. 167).“
Perkins, John M. One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love. Kindle Edition. Moody Publishers, 2018.
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?”
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Chapman & Hall, 1859. (pp. 13-4).
Reflecting on the evil of American slavery, Northrup writes:
There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones—there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there are surely those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not—may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance—discourse flippantly from arm chairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field—sleep with him in the cabin—feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. Let them know the heart of the poor slave—learn his secret thoughts—thoughts he dare not utter in the hearing of the white man; let them sit by him in the silent watches of the night—converse with him in trustful confidence, of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and they will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves.
Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave – Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin Based on a Lifetime Project. New Info, Images, Maps (Kindle Locations 2372-2381). Eakin Films & Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Mississippi, from their 1861 State Convention meeting notes (emphasis in the original):
Of the immediate causes which induce and justify the secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery–the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery, is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has long been aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.
The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the North-western territory.
The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.
The same hostility dismembered Texas, and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.
It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the territories, and whenever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.
It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.
It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.
It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.
It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.
It has enlisted the press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.
Bryan Stevenson is a highly acclaimed public interest lawyer, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery Alabama, and recipient of the MacArthur Scholarship. Over his career of nearly three decades, he has successfully argued in front of the Supreme Court, and along with his staff, he has exonerated over 125 wrongly condemned prisoners from death row. In the final chapter of his memoir, Just Mercy (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), he has this to say (emphasis mine):
I believe that so much of our worst thinking about justice is steeped in the myths of racial difference that still plague us. I believe that there are four institutions in American history that have shaped our approach to race and justice but remain poorly understood. The first, of course, is slavery. This was followed by the reign of terror that shaped the lives of people of color following the collapse of Reconstruction until World War II. Older people of color in the South would occasionally come up to me after speeches to complain about how antagonized they feel when they hear news commentators talking about how we were dealing with domestic terrorism for the first time in the United States after the 9/11 attacks.
An older African American man once said to me, “You make them stop saying that! We grew up with terrorism all the time. The police, the Klan, anybody who was white could terrorize you. We had to worry about bombings and lynchings, racial violence of all kinds.”
The third institution, “Jim Crow”, is the legalized racial segregation and suppression of basic rights that defined the American apartheid era. It is more recent and is recognized in our national consciousness, but it is still not well understood. It seems to me that we’ve been quick to celebrate the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and slow to recognize the damage done in that era. We have been unwilling to commit to a process of truth and reconciliation in which people are allowed to give voice to the difficulties created by racial segregation, racial subordination, and marginalization.
The legacy of racial profiling carries many of the same complications. Working on all of these juvenile cases across the country meant that I was frequently in courtrooms and communities where I’d never been before. Once I was preparing to do a hearing in a trial court in the Midwest and was sitting at counsel table in an empty courtroom before the hearing. I was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie. The judge and the prosecutor entered through a door in the back of the courtroom laughing about something.
When the judge saw me sitting at the defense table, he said to me harshly, “Hey, you shouldn’t be in here without counsel. Go back outside and wait in the hallway until your lawyer arrives.”
I stood up and smiled broadly. I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Your Honor, we haven’t met. My name is Bryan Stevenson, I am the lawyer on the case set for hearing this morning.”
The judge laughed at his mistake, and the prosecutor joined in. I forced myself to laugh because I didn’t want my young client, a white child who had been prosecuted as an adult, to be disadvantaged by a conflict I had created with the judge before the hearing. But I was disheartened by the experience. Of course innocent mistakes occur, but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden borne by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.
The fourth institution is mass incarceration. Going into any prison is deeply confusing if you know anything about the racial demographics of America. The extreme overrepresentation of people of color, the disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, the targeted prosecution of drug crimes in poor communities, the criminalization of new immigrants and undocumented people, the collateral consequences of voter disenfranchisement, and the barriers to re-entry can only be fully understood through the lens of our racial history.
For more information, you can watch his talk on “Grace, Justice & Mercy” and follow-up panel discussion with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC.
Michael O. Emerson is provost of North Park University in Chicago. Prior to that, he was a Professor of Sociology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Emerson received his PhD in sociology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Previously he worked for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Smith holds an MA and PhD in Sociology from Harvard University.
“This book is the story of how well-intentioned people, their values, and their institutions actually recreate racial divisions and inequalities they ostensibly oppose.” From housing, to income, to employment, to nearly every facet of American society, differential outcomes across race are well-documented. Many white evangelicals do not have a category for structural racism, and thus tend to take a benign view of America’s “Race Problem”, understanding it primarily at an individualistic level. There is a well-intended notion among evangelicals that if anything can overcome racism, it is the church. However, evangelicals have a poor record of opposing racism, with deep inconsistencies documented throughout history. Today, the evangelical church is more divided than the rest of America is. In fact, structural elements of religion in America actually reinforce, rather than reduce racial division.
Table of Contents
Confronting the Black-White Racial Divide
From Separate Pews to Separate Churches
Becoming Active: Contemporary Involvement in the American Dilemma
Color Blind Evangelicals Speak on the “Race Problem”
Controlling One’s Own Destiny: Explaining Economic Inequality Between Blacks and Whites
Let’s Be Friends: Exploring Solutions to the Race Problem
The Organization of Religion and Internally Similar Congregation
Structurally Speaking: Religion and Racialization
Introduction: Religion and the Racialized Society
“This book is the story of how well-intentioned people, their values, and their institutions actually recreate racial divisions and inequalities they ostensibly oppose.” There are many books on Black-White race relations and many on Protestant Evangelical Religion, but there are few that explore the intersection of these two “dynamic… and unique aspects of American life.”
Who are Evangelicals? Defined theologically, they are people who hold to the authority of the scriptures, who believe that Christ is the only way to eternal salvation, and who believe in the importance of sharing the gospel. They are about 90% white. For the purposes of Smith and Emerson’s survey and interview-based research, Evangelicals are those who identified themselves as such (as opposed to Mainline Christian or Catholic, for example). Another component of evangelicals is their desire to take their faith beyond the confines of the evangelical sub-culture and into the public square. Billy Graham, perhaps the best known evangelical at the time of this book, said that “racial and ethnic hostility is the foremost social problem facing our world today”. This book serves as an assessment of how well evangelicals are doing.
Chapter 1: Confronting the Black-White Racial Divide
The author’s define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships,” and a society that rewards and punishes along racial lines. The authors introduce the idea of race as a social construct which can be seen when we realize that we attach social significance and meaning to certain physical characteristics (i.e., skin color) and not to others (e.g., ear size) and that social meaning and even our definitions of race have changed over time. The authors note that the concept of race arose in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as an ideology to justify mass enslavement of people groups. The reason that racial prejudice in society is hard to measure is that it’s form changes over time. In the 1850s it could be measured with questions like “Black people are happy being slaves” whereas in the 1950s it could be measured with questions like “White people should have the right to keep black people from moving into their neighborhoods”. This being said, the authors define racism as a changing ideology with “the purpose of perpetuating and justifying a social system that is racialized”.
Is the US a Racialized Society? Regardless of what type of indicators you are looking at, you will see that Race is a fundamental cleavage in society. When people get married, they are not color-blind, less than one-half of one percent of marriages are black-white. There is more residential segregation between black and white than any other racial category. The unemployment ratio from black to white is 2-to-1, this has remained largely constant since 1950. Median income for blacks is 64% of what it is for whites, roughly what it was in the 1960s. One study showed that median net worth for college-educated blacks is $17k, compared to $75k for college-educated whites. The Racialized society extends to health and medicine. One study found that White Americans are much more likely to receive coronary bypass surgery than black Americans, even after controlling for income and age. For Medicare patients, this difference jumps to 4 times as likely to receive this surgery. African American babies die at 2 times the rate as white babies and African-American mothers are 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers. The Racialized society can also be seen in TV choices, the way that music is interpreted, and religion.
“Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and a student of American life, noted that whites and blacks were really two foreign communities. He predicted that if and when the slaves were freed, the black-white divide would only grow more intense.” This point was echoed, over 100 years later by a famous study on Race Relations in the 1930s by the Swedish Researcher Gunner Myrdal and again in 1968 by the President’s Commission. Twenty-five years later, “the Eisenhower Foundation Commission concluded that the assessment of the United States as ‘two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal… [is] more relevant today”’ than in 1968.”
Chapter 2: From Separate Pews to Separate Churches
Historically, Evangelical Christians in America embody deep contradictions. At times opposing various manifestations of racism, they nevertheless do not confront the racialized society as such. Cotton Mather was an early proponent for evangelizing slaves. Not surprisingly, this was unpopular with slave owners, as it was inconsistent with the prevailing idea that slaves were less than human. In response, Mather (and other clergy) went to great lengths to affirm the institution of slavery, teaching and even pushing for legislation that “Christian liberty in no way changed temporal bondage”. There are records of state legislation to this effect dating back to 1664. Moving forward in time to the Great Awakening (1720-1740s), George Whitfield, the quintessential evangelical of his time, advocated for both the need of slaves to be converted to Christianity and the necessity and goodness of the institution of slavery. Indeed, in 1741, Whitfield testified before the Parliament of his home state of Georgia for the repeal of the exclusion of slavery and even owned slaves himself. These early men (and others like them) had the effect of laying the theological groundwork in the early 19th century for using the Bible to defend the practice of chattel slavery.
It was during the revolutionary period, when the contradiction between a war for freedom justified by an argument rooted in natural human rights and the institution of slavery was most apparent. It was during this time that the Bible began to be widely used to advocate for slavery. The argument went like this: since slaves are by nature inferior and unable “to control themselves, slavery allows for social order, and limits crime and vice that would otherwise occur”. Later, during the Civil War period, there was some evangelical opposition to slavery but this was not widespread and where it did show up it was mainly in the north, where slavery was not prevalent. “Because the nineteenth century was dominated by evangelical Christianity—George Marsden estimates that over half of the U.S. population and 85 percent of Protestants were evangelical—it is likely that actions that occurred during this time were largely supported by evangelical Christians.” The example of Charles Finney is instructive. Initially an outspoken evangelical abolitionist, speaking out against slavery from the pulpit and being the one of the first to not allow slaveholders to take communion, he did not oppose racial prejudice or segregation, and eventually abandoned the abolitionist movement all-together, seeing it as too far-reaching and a distraction from evangelism.
Moving into the civil rights era, the most famous evangelical of the 20th century, Billy Graham provided yet another example of “wavering actions on the race issue. In 1952, he held desegregated meetings in Washington, D.C.; a few weeks later in Houston, he accepted the local organizers’ segregated seating terms… he criticized segregation, but when this upset white southerners, he told the local newspaper, “I feel that I have been misinterpreted on racial segregation. We follow the existing social customs in whatever part of the country in which we minister. As far as I have been able to find in my study of the Bible, it has nothing to say about segregation or nonsegregation. I came to Jackson to preach only the Bible and not to enter into local issues.”
Chapter 3: Becoming Active: Contemporary Involvement in the American Dilemma
Starting in the late 1960s, a Theology of racial Reconciliation began being developed by Evangelical leaders in the Civil Rights movement (e.g., John Perkins, Samuel Hines, and Tom Skinner). This theology stated that contained in the very essence of the gospel message, is the power of God to reconcile us who were once enemies, to him, and, as a consequence, the power of God to reconcile us who were once enemies to each other (Ephesians 2:11-22). According to these leaders, in order to achieve true reconciliation, four things must be done.
“First, individuals of different races must develop primary relationships with each other…”
“The second major step demands recognizing social structures of inequality, and that all Christians must resist them together.”
Third, “whites, as the main creators and benefactors of the racialized society, must repent of their personal, historical, and social sins.”
Fourth, African Americans “must be willing, when whites ask, to forgive them individually and corporately.”
During these years a lot of progress was made, with racial reconciliation conferences being sponsored, books being co-written on the topic by black-white author combinations, church mergers between historically black and white congregations, and in 1995 the public repentance of supporting slavery of the largest protestant denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the biggest organizations addressing Racial Reconciliation was Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s organization, headed by former University of Colorado Head Football Coach, Bill McCartney.
However, something was lost in translation. White Evangelical leaders tended to focus on the individual aspects of reconciliation such as repenting of individual racial prejudice and developing cross-racial friendships, while ignoring the part about the need for collective repentance and recognizing and resisting unjust social structures. This frustrated Black Evangelicals. Tony Evans, Megachurch pastor in Dallas, summarized: “The concerns of black Americans are not of dominant concern, by and large, to white evangelicals.” Tony Warner, Black Area Leader within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship stated it directly: “White evangelicals are more willing to pursue a white conservative political agenda than to be reconciled with their African-American brothers and sisters. It raises a fundamental question of their belief and commitment to the biblical gospel.” And from a white perspective, Bill McCartney reported that he received a lot of pushback from white attendees to his Promise Keeper events whenever he brought up the topic of Racial Reconciliation, even though his focus was limited to the individual component of reconciliation. What was it about the message of Racial Reconciliation that made it so difficult to hear? The focus of the next three chapters is on understanding the mindset of “grassroots evangelicals”.
Chapter 4: Color Blind Evangelicals Speak on the “Race Problem”
The authors conducted over 250 face-to-face interviews with evangelicals to get their perspective on the “Race Problem.” Here is a typical response from Debbie, an white evangelical woman:
Well to me, people have problems. I mean, two white guys working together are gonna have arguments once in a while. Women are gonna have arguments. It happens between men and women, between two white guys and two white women. It’s just people. People are gonna have arguments with people. I feel like once in a while, when an argument happens, say between a black guy and a white guy, instead of saying, “Hey, there’s two guys having an argument,” we say it’s a race issue (pp. 69-70).
According to Debbie, the race problem is just a individual people problem that gets exaggerated and mislabeled as being racism. This point of view was common. Among racially isolated white evangelicals, the “Race Problem” was one or more of three things: either “(1) prejudiced individuals, resulting in bad relationships and sin, (2) other groups—usually African Americans—trying to make race problems a group issue when there is nothing more than individual problems, and (3) a fabrication of the self-interested—again often African Americans, but also the media, the government, or liberals (p. 74).” These responses can be understood as an application of cultural tools that White Evangelicals use to explain and interpret life experiences:
Freewill Accountable Individualism: “Individuals exist independent of structures and institutions, have freewill, and are individually accountable for their own actions” (pp. 76-77).
Relationalism: Strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships rooted in “the view that human nature is fallen and that salvation and Christian maturity can only come through a ‘personal relationship with Christ.’ For this reason, white evangelicals… often view social problems as rooted in poor relationships or the negative influence of significant others. (pp. 77-78).”
Anti-Structuralism: The belief that “invoking social structures shifts guilt away from its root source—the accountable individual” and the absence of the idea “that poor relationships might be shaped by social structures, such as laws, the ways institutions operate, or forms of segregation (pp. 78-79).”
As a part of the survey, the majority of the respondents said that Racism was a very important issue to address. However, when asked to provide a concrete example of racism “a substantial number could not… Conversely, our nonwhite respondents had no trouble producing specific examples of racism, nor did the relatively racially non-isolated whites, usually both at the individual and institutional levels. As many race scholars note, not having to know the details or extent of racialization is an advantage afforded to most white Americans (p 88).” It is noteworthy that this benign view of racialization is consistent with sociological research done much earlier.
From interviews conducted back in the late 1960s, [David T.] Wellman concluded that many white respondents believed “agitators cause racial problems; white America does not,” and “America proclaims that all people are equal and there is no reason to believe otherwise. (p. 88)”
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Swedish scholar Gunnar Myrdal traveled America in preparation for his monumental work on American race relations. In interviewing, he found many honest, good-natured people who told him that though the United States once had a race problem back during slavery times, it no longer did. Relations between the races were good and improving all the time, people were content, and society was functioning smoothly (p. 10).
Chapter 5: Controlling One’s Own Destiny: Explaining Economic Inequality Between Blacks and Whites
The General Social Survey is a nationally representative survey that examines opinions of the American public on a range of issues. One of the questions asks why it is that “On average blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people (p. 94).” A multiple-choice question, (non-exclusive) options included lack of motivation/willpower, lack of educational opportunity, and discrimination. The first would be considered an individual factor, while the second and third could be considered structural factors. The most common response given by white respondents was individual, with 51% citing lack of motivation, as compared to 42% of black respondents for a difference of 9%. The structural factors were less emphasized by white respondents, with 36% citing discrimination, compared to 63% of black respondents for a difference of 27%. Within the Conservative Protestants (defined in the survey as those believing in an afterlife, a literal, inspired Bible, and labeling themselves as evangelical or fundamentalist) these differences were larger. The most common response given by white conservative protestants was again individual, but this time 62% cited lack of motivation, as compared to 31% of black conservative respondents for a difference of 31%. The structural factors were again less emphasized by white respondents, but this time 27% cited discrimination, compared to 72% of black respondents, for a difference of 45%. On Education, there was a difference of 7% between Black and White respondents, compared to a difference of 22% between Conservative Protestant Black and White respondents. Most evangelical Christians believe that if anything has the power to achieve racial reconciliation, it is their faith. However, when it comes to explaining inequality, they are more divided than the rest of America is.
To delve deeper, the authors conducted 250 face-to-face interviews. During the interviews the researchers asked respondents an open-ended version of the same question: “Studies show that on average blacks have worse jobs, income and housing than white people… Why do you think that is?” Among white evangelical respondents there was an assumption that both black and white have equal opportunity. The authors presented the equation: (Equally created) + (Equal opportunity) + ? = (Un-equal Outcome). As a a result, and in direct application of the cultural tools described earlier, the most common responses from white evangelicals were limited to individual/relational factors such as lack of vision, poor choices, breakdown of the family, and shifting the blame to structural factors like racial discrimination. The authors noted that White Christians tended to be seem uncomfortable and even angry when asked to provide their explanation for the racial differences. “What is it about inequality and black Americans that arouse such responses?… African Americans, despite their Christian association, violate key tenets of white conservative Christianity. African Americans, in their eyes, are not true accountable freewill individualists, are relationally dysfunctional, and sin both by relying on programs rather than themselves, and by shifting blame to structurally based reasons for inequality. (pp. 102-103).”
Chapter 6: Let’s Be Friends: Exploring Solutions to the Race Problem
In order to explore solutions to racism, the authors conducted their own national telephone survey with randomly selected participants (both Conservative Protestants and other). They asked if racism is a “top priority that Christians/people should be working to overcome, or not? (p. 120)” If they said yes, they then asked them which alternatives should be considered a “very important” way that we should work against racism:
Try to get to know people of another race
Work against discrimination in the job market and legal system
Work to racially integrate congregations
Work to racially integrate residential neighborhoods (p. 120)
Smith and Emerson classified respondents into strong Evangelicals, moderate Evangelicals, and non-Evangelicals. For 1. and 2. there were roughly equal levels of support between strong white and black Evangelicals. However, for 3. and 4. there was much higher support by strong black Evangelicals than among strong white Evangelicals. For pursuing integrated congregations 87% of strong Black evangelicals supported it, whereas only 58% of strong White evangelicals supported it. For working towards neighborhood integration, 64% of strong Black evangelicals supported it, while only 38% of strong White evangelicals did. The explanations for these disparity is consistent with the application of the cultural tools explained in chapters 4 and 5. Option 1. is individualistic, and 2. can be interpreted in an individualistic way, whereas options 3. and 4. imply some level of structural change that is required. Where there was White Evangelical support for integrated congregations, the assumption was that they should welcome black people into their churches, not that they would consider switching churches themselves.
Chapter 7: The Organization of Religion and Internally Similar Congregation
Some Evangelicals think that it’s OK that churches are segregated. Other Evangelicals think it’s sad. Still others are indifferent. What no one debates, is that churches in America are segregated. “According to the 1998 National Congregations Study, about 90 percent of American congregations are made up of at least 90 percent of people of the same race.”
To understand why this is the case, we need to understand the structure of religion in America. Viewed sociologically, Religion in American functions as a marketplace. There are suppliers (clergy and church staff) and customers (church attendees). Historically, the idea of multiple religious options to select from is relatively new and unique idea. In previous eras, your religion was a function of the group of people you were born into and the place you lived. There are two key factors that served to establish this form religion in America. The first factor is the enlightenment, which taught that we can as individuals use reason to discover truth for ourselves. The second factor is the first Great Awakening, which occurred in 1720-1740. These two factors culminated in the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1785) and the First Amendment of the Constitution (1791) which stated “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. This officially de-established the church from the state and opened up a marketplace for religion in America. One consequence of the church marketplace, is that churches compete with other churches for church members. They develop a niche or a target demographic in order to make sure they stand out and appeal uniquely to a particular group.
Why do congregations tend to be internally similar? In order to answer this question we need to answer first, why do people join religious groups in the first place? Viewed sociologically, people want to have a shared sense of identity, belonging, and security. In order to have a social solidarity with other members of the group, boundaries must exist to define who you are (and are not) in solidarity with. Internally similar congregations provide the benefit of belonging and meaning with the least cost in terms of the least complexity and effort to run and least potential for conflict. Psychologically, people like to spend time with people like themselves. In America’s racialized society, race is widely associated with other socio-demographic attributes such as income, educational attainment, health, etc… Also, people have a bias for maintaining the status quo - since the church has been segregated historically, it is just easier to maintain that than try to overcome it. (This is a similar idea to loss aversion.) Macro-sociologically, churches tend to focus on the niche that they are seeking to attract. People are less likely to feel a sense of belonging if they are on the fringe of that particular churches niche. When the people feel as though their needs are not being met, they simply change churches, to a place where they are part of the core niche. When there is overlap between niches among multiple churches (as will be the case in many mixed-race churches), this generates a situation of competition. Inevitably, the church that places a greater focus on that niche often times will win out. Race, although a sociological invention, nevertheless has meaning in terms of cultural differences. Thus, regardless of whether or not they have personal prejudice towards people of a different race, most people choose to go to church in a racially homogenous setting.
Chapter 8: Structurally Speaking: Religion and Racialization
How does Religion in America contribute to the racialized society? First, the authors examine the role of racially homogeneous ingroup. The authors highlight five biases associated with the ingroup.
“people tend to exaggerate the similarities of ingroup members and their differences from outgroup members”
“outgroup members are identified by these differences, overly homogenizing them. This occurs even when the “difference” is merely temporary, arbitrary, and minimal, or even when the only basis for separate groups is random assignment.”
“Even when performing exactly the same actions, ingroup members are evaluated more positively and outgroup members more negatively.”
“we attribute positive behavior of ingroup members to internal traits such as intelligence, and negative behavior to external causes such as a poor home life. Conversely, we tend to attribute the positive behavior of outgroups to external causes such as luck, and negative behavior to internal traits such as limited intelligence.”
people have “better memories for negative outgroup behaviors than for negative ingroup behaviors (pp. 156-157).”
Due to these biases - which are associated with groups of any kind - racially homogenous congregations will inevitably produce racial biases, which in turn will further fortify the racialized society.
Second, the authors examine how the segmented market of religion in America contributes to racialization. They argue that the segmented market of religion in America constrains the ability of the clergy to exercise a prophetic voice, declaring “what ought to be, what is universally true, and what is right and just”. Because people have so many church options to choose from, they will tend to go to churches that meet their felt needs while requiring the least sacrifice from them. If they do not perceive racial issues as being important to address, they will not respond positively to clergy challenging them in this area, either leaving the church or firing the clergy. Authority in religious institutions exists, but it is primarily driven through popularity. The most popular church leaders have the most to lose through speaking out against social injustice, and thus they are less likely to do so unless their congregation asks it of them, which as we have already seen in earlier chapters is highly unlikely to happen in white evangelical congregations.
Chapter 9: Conclusion
In his book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”, Mark Knoll argues that white evangelicals have a tendency towards urgent action over critical thought. In order for Evangelicals to tear down barriers, and erect structural supports, careful and rigorous thought needs to be given to what the problem is that needs to be solved, and what solutions have been tried before. It’s only when Evangelicals realize how they have hurt and misunderstood each other, that they can begin the process of healing.
We live in an age of intense division, both within and without the church. Jonathan Leeman’s book, How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson, 2018) provides a helpful frame of reference for Christians seeking to think about politics from a Biblical perspective. Clear, thorough, and filled with compelling application examples drawn from his experiences at Capital Hill Baptist Church, I highly recommend; and not just for people who consider themselves “interested in politics”. In order to motivate you to read it, here are 20 quotes:
On current division in the church:
Christians have bickered about how to best engage the culture. Some want to strengthen the evangelical voting bloc. Others want to pursue social-justice causes. Still others would leave the public square to the pagans and get on with the so-called spiritual work of the church.
Perhaps the saddest example of [division] inside American churches remains the ethnic divide. Black churches exist in America in large part because whites pushed them out in centuries past. Since the 1980s, many whites have tried to welcome blacks, but it’s back into their white churches. The message people of color often hear remains, “Give up your cultural preferences so that I can keep mine.”
On the meaning of Separation of Church and State:
Biblically understood, the separation of church and state isn’t about who gets to decide what morals will bind a nation. It’s about the fact that God has given the state one kind of authority and churches another kind.
On the three purposes of government:
The first and most immediate purpose of government is to render judgment for the sake of justice… [second], to build a platform of peace, order, and even flourishing on which humans can live their lives… [and third], a good government sets the stage for God’s plan of redemption.
The public square as a battleground of gods:
Governments serve gods. This is true of every government in every place ever since God gave governments to the world. The judge judging, the voter voting, the president presiding, all of them work for their gods. No citizen or officeholder is religiously indifferent or neutral.
What he means by little-g, gods:
whatever we cannot imagine living without,
whatever we most love,
whatever we most trust, rely on, and believe in, and
whatever is our final refuge.
America’s cultural idol:
Every culture has some values that it prizes above all others. Os Guinness wisely observed that “freedom is unquestionably what Americans love supremely, and love of freedom is what makes Americans the people they are.”
Investing our hope firstly in the Church:
Mark Dever put it: “Before and after America, there was and will be the church. The nation is an experiment. The church is a certainty.”
How Churches are more like embassies then lobbying organizations:
A Christian’s political posture, in a word, must never be withdraw. Nor should it be dominate. It must always be represent, and we must do this when the world loves us and when it despises us. Anyone who tells you, “Withdraw, we’re losing!” or, “Push forward, we’re winning!” may have succumbed to a kind of utopianism, as if we could build heaven on earth. Instead, heaven starts in our assemblies, even if only as in a mirror dimly. Christians are heaven’s ambassadors, and our churches are its embassies. Neither panic nor triumphalism become us.
The one verse that summarizes the Bible’s political philosophy:
“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28). This one verse, I dare say, gives us the Bible’s political philosophy in a nutshell.
On straight-line vs. jagged-line issues:
Robert Benne [in] Good and Bad Ways to Think About Politics and Religion… referred to two kinds of issues: straight-line issues and jagged-line issues. With the first, there is a straight line from core biblical principles to political policy applications. With the second, there is a complex and jagged line.
I would argue, for instance, that there is a direct path from biblical principle to political application with abortion. Abortion is murder, and the Bible commands governments to protect its citizens from murder. The path is that simple.
As an isolated issue, abortion is different than, say, health-care policy. This is more of a jagged-line issue. Christians might bring biblical convictions to bear in a conversation about health-care policy: we should care for the downtrodden, we should treat all people with dignity and respect, we should seek to remove entrenched cycles of injustice and the poverty that follows, we should ensure the insurers and medical practitioners are fair and honest and don’t swindle patients, we should be skeptical of governmental involvement in health care that arguably hurts the quality of care, and so forth. But it’s no easy task to add all these principles together in order to yield the biblical or Christian position.
Christians should unite around straight-line issues while leaving room for Christian freedom around jagged-line issues… So much political dialogue among Christians these days thoughtlessly and divisively treats everything as a straight-line issue.
The political nature of the Church:
Every week that a preacher stands up to preach he makes a political speech. He teaches the congregation “to observe all” that the King with all authority in heaven and on earth has commanded (Matt. 28:20). He strives to shape their lives in the way of the King’s law. We then declare the King’s judgments in the ordinances, embrace the King’s purposes in our prayers, and echo the King’s joy and mourning in our songs.
On making arguments in the public square:
For the purposes of biblical justice and within the bounds of biblical morality (principled), make whatever arguments work (pragmatist).
Christians in particular make three kinds of common-ground arguments: what I call the Luther approach (which appeals to conscience), the MLK approach (which appeals to natural law), and the sociologist’s approach (which appeals to statistics)…. I think we should add one more weapon to our arsenal: the Polycarp approach. The Polycarp approach doesn’t look for common ground. It recognizes that every once in a while it’s good to show up and simply announce, “Behold your God,” like the Old Testament prophets did.
On learning to be before we do:
I want to shift our focus from redeeming the nation to living as a redeemed nation.
Charles is a Washington, DC, speechwriter. He has written speeches for cabinet members, party chairmen, and other DC insiders… Freddie, who was homeless, became a Christian and joined our church. After several good years, the church discovered Freddie was stealing money from members to support a drug addiction, so they removed him from membership. That’s when Charles entered the picture. He began reading the Bible with Freddie, and little by little, Freddie began to repent. Eventually Charles helped Freddie stand before the entire church, confess his lying and stealing, and ask for forgiveness. The church clapped, cheered, and embraced Freddie… Which Charles is the “political” Charles? The speechwriter or the disciple-maker? To ask it another way, which Charles deals with welfare policy, housing policy, criminal reform, and education? Answer: both.
On the last day, what God will require:
Society may get better; it may get worse, regardless of the activities of faithful Christians. That is outside of your control and mine. What is within our control is whether we seek justice, love our neighbor, and do both these things wisely, not foolishly.
On the Last Day, God will not ask you, “Did you produce change?” but, “Did you faithfully pursue change in those places where I gave you opportunity and authority?”
Questions for self-reflection:
You who call for immigration reform, do you practice hospitality with visitors to your church who are ethnically or nationally different from you?
You who vote for family values, do you honor your parents and love your spouse self-sacrificially?
You who speak against abortion, do you also embrace and assist the single mothers in your church? Do you encourage adoption? Do you prioritize your own children over financial comfort?
You who talk about welfare reform, do you give to the needy in your congregation?
You who proclaim that all lives matter, do all your friends look like you?
You who lament structural injustices, do you work against them in your own congregation? Do you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?
You who fight for traditional marriage, do you love your wife, cherishing her as you would your own body and washing her with the water of the Word?
Written by one of the most influential legal scholars of the last three decades years, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Belknap Press, 2011) aims at nothing less than a comprehensive description of today’s criminal justice system, how it came to be what it is today, and what can be done to fix it. A self-proclaimed conservative and evangelical Christian, William J. Stuntz describes the current Criminal Justice System as an “arbitrary, discriminatory, and punitive beast” that has lost its way through politicizing criminal punishment, emphasizing procedural rather than substantive law, and losing a sense of local democracy. Stuntz completed the manuscript for this book on his deathbed and it was published after his death in 2011. Here is Stuntz in his own words:
Among the great untold stories of our time is this one: the last half of the twentieth century saw America’s criminal justice system unravel. There are three keys to the system’s dysfunction, each of which has deep historical roots but all of which took hold in the last sixty years.
First, the rule of law collapsed. To a degree that had not been true in America’s past, official discretion rather than legal doctrine or juries’ judgments came to define criminal justice outcomes.
Second, discrimination against both black suspects and black crime victims grew steadily worse, oddly, in an age of rising legal protection for civil rights. Today, black drug offenders are punished in great numbers, even as white drug offenders are usually ignored. (As is usually the case with respect to American crime statistics, Latinos fall in between, but generally closer to the white population than to the black one.)’ At the same time, blacks victimized by violent felonies regularly see violence go unpunished; the story is different in most white neighborhoods.
The third trend is the least familiar: a kind of pendulum justice took hold in the twentieth century’s second half, as America’s justice system first saw a sharp decline in the prison population-in the midst of a record-setting crime wave-then saw that population rise steeply. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States had one of the most lenient justice systems in the world. By century’s end, that justice system was the harshest in the history of democratic government.
What is the nature of science? Is science fundamentally data and methodology driven or is it based on an particular and unproven view of the world? Originally published in 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions challenges the conventional understanding of science through a deep analysis of historical examples such as the Copernican, Newtonian, and Lavoisierian Revolutions. Thomas Kuhn, a former physicist turned historian argues against a cumulative and deterministic view of science, one where new knowledge is gradually added upon past knowledge through strict following of a “scientific methodology”, which was famously advocated for by Karl Popper. Rather, he stresses the idea of a paradigm, which is an accomplishment that defines “acceptable” problems for normal research but is ultimately based on a particular view of the world which cannot be proved by simple appeals to data and falsified hypotheses. The fact that almost all normal science presupposes these these fundamental paradigms, and that these paradigms can be (and are) completely replaced with new paradigms if (a) they are found to be seriously lacking and (b) an alternative paradigm is supplied, raises the question of what it means to make scientific progress.
Questions and Answers
Q: What is the Structure of Scientific Revolutions?
normal science with a paradigm and a dedication to solving puzzles; followed by serious anomalies, which lead to a crisis; and finally resolution of the crisis by a new paradigm (Introductory Essay by Ian Hacking).
Q: What is Normal Science?
The most striking feature of the normal research problems we have just encountered is how little they aim to produce major novelties, conceptual or phenomenal (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
To scientists, at least, the results gained in normal research are significant because they add to the scope and precision with which the paradigm can be applied (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Q: How is Normal Science like Puzzle Solving?
It is no criterion of goodness in a puzzle that its outcome be intrinsically interesting or important (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Though intrinsic value is no criterion for a puzzle, the assured existence of a solution is (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
There must also be rules that limit both the nature of acceptable solutions and the steps by which they are to be obtained. To solve a jigsaw puzzle is not, for example, merely “to make a picture” (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Q: What is a Paradigm?
An achievement that serves:
for a time implicitly to define the legitimate problems and methods of a research field for succeeding generations of practitioners (Chapter II, The Route to Normal Science).
These achievements possess two critical characteristics:
…sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity.
… sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve. (Chapter II, The Route to Normal Science).
Q: What is an Anomaly?
…the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science (Chapter VI, Anomoly and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Q: What is a Crisis?
[A situation where] the awareness of anomaly had lasted so long and penetrated so deep that one can appropriately describe the fields affected by it as in a state of growing crisis (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Q: Why is a Revolution Necessary?
… the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. One contains constrained bodies that fall slowly, the other pendulums that repeat their motions again and again. In one, solutions are compounds, in the other mixtures. One is embedded in a flat, the other in a curved, matrix of space. Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction.
When its predecessor, the Ptolemaic system, was first developed during the last two centuries before Christ and the first two after, it was admirably successful in predicting the changing positions of both stars and planets. No other ancient system had performed so well; for the stars, Ptolemaic astronomy is still widely used today as an engineering approximation; for the planets, Ptolemy’s predictions were as good as Copernicus’. But to be admirably successful is never, for a scientific theory, to be completely successful. With respect both to planetary position and to precession of the equinoxes, predictions made with Ptolemy’s system never quite conformed with the best available observations. Further reduction of those minor discrepancies constituted many of the principal problems of normal astronomical research for many of Ptolemy’s successors… (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries)
Given a particular discrepancy, astronomers were invariably able to eliminate it by making some particular adjustment in Ptolemy’s system of compounded circles. But as time went on, a man looking at the net result of the normal research effort of many astronomers could observe that astronomy’s complexity was increasing far more rapidly than its accuracy and that a discrepancy corrected in one place was likely to show up in another (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
In the sixteenth century, Copernicus’ coworker, Domenico da Novara, held that no system so cumbersome and inaccurate as the Ptolemaic had become could possibly be true of nature. And Copernicus himself wrote in the Preface to the De Revolutionibus that the astronomical tradition he inherited had finally created only a monster. By the early sixteenth century an increasing number of Europe’s best astronomers were recognizing that the astronomical paradigm was failing in application to its own traditional problems. That recognition was prerequisite to Copernicus’ rejection of the Ptolemaic paradigm and his search for a new one. His famous preface still provides one of the classic descriptions of a crisis state. (Chapter VII, Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries).
Copernicus saw as counterinstances what most of Ptolemy’s other successors had seen as puzzles in the match between observation and theory (Chapter VIII, The Response to Crisis).
Copernicus complained that in his day astronomers were so “inconsistent in these [astronomical] investigations . . . that they cannot even explain or observe the constant length of the seasonal year.” “With them,” he continued, “it is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from diverse models, each part excellently drawn, but not related to a single body, and since they in no way match each other, the result would be monster rather than man” (Chapter VIII, The Response to Crisis).
Consider, for another example, the men who called Copernicus mad because he proclaimed that the earth moved. They were not either just wrong or quite wrong. Part of what they meant by ‘earth’ was fixed position. Their earth, at least, could not be moved. Correspondingly, Copernicus’ innovation was not simply to move the earth. Rather, it was a whole new way of regarding the problems of physics and astronomy, one that necessarily changed the meaning of both ‘earth’ and ‘motion.’4 Without those changes the concept of a moving earth was mad. (Chapter XII, The Resolution of Revolutions).
Q: Is Kuhn anti-truth?
Unfortunately [Kuhn’s work] was also abused by the wave of skeptical intellectuals who called the very idea of truth in question. Kuhn had no such intention. He was a fact lover and a truth seeker (Introductory Essay by Ian Hacking).
Q: So, what do Scientists do?
The scientific enterprise as a whole does from time to time prove useful, open up new territory, display order, and test long-accepted belief. Nevertheless, the individual engaged on a normal research problem is almost never doing any one of these things. Once engaged, his motivation is of a rather different sort. What then challenges him is the conviction that, if only he is skillful enough, he will succeed in solving a puzzle that no one before has solved or solved so well. Many of the greatest scientific minds have devoted all of their professional attention to demanding puzzles of this sort. On most occasions any particular field of specialization offers nothing else to do, a fact that makes it no less fascinating to the proper sort of addict (Chapter IV, Normal Science as Puzzle Solving).
Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas published the Pragmatic Programmer in 2000. As the name implies, it is a practical book consisting of various tips and techniques that the authors have found to be helpful in their programming experience. Here are three tips that I found to be particularly helpful. All quotes are theirs unless otherwise noted.
Refactor Early, Refactor Often
Software Development is Organic:
Unfortunately, the most common metaphor for software development is building construction.
Software is more like gardening — it is more organic than concrete.
You might want to explain this principle to the boss by using a medical analogy: think of the code that needs refactoring as a “growth”. Removing it requires invasive surgery.
You can go in now, and take it out while it is still small. Or, you could wait while it grows and spreads — but removing it then will be both more expensive and more dangerous. Wait even longer, and you may lose the patient entirely.
Be a Catalyst for Change
Software Development is like Stone Soup:
You may be in a situation where you know exactly what needs doing and how to do it. The entire system just appears before your eyes — you know it’s right. But ask permission to tackle the whole thing and you’ll be met with delays and blank stares. People will form committees, budgets will need approval, and things will get complicated. Everyone will guard their own resources. Sometimes this is called “start-up fatigue.” It’s time to bring out the stones. Work out what you can reasonably ask for. Develop it well. Once you’ve got it, show people, and let them marvel. Then say “ of course, it would be better if we added….” Pretend it’s not important. Sit back and wait for them to start asking you to add the functionality you originally wanted. People find it easier to join an ongoing success. Show them a glimpse of the future and you’ll get them to rally around.
Don’t Gather Requirements — Dig for Them
Software development requires manual labor before writing code:
Many books and tutorials refer to requirements gathering as an early phase of the project. The word “gathering” seems to imply a tribe of happy analysts, foraging for nuggets of wisdom that are lying on the ground all around them while the Pastoral Symphony plays gently in the background. “Gathering” implies that the requirements are already there — you need merely find them, place them in your basket, and be merrily on your way. It doesn’t quite work that way. Requirements rarely lie on the surface. Normally, they’re buried deep beneath layers of assumptions, misconceptions, and politics.
Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith published Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America in 2000. I found it incredibly helpful and I highly recommend. This is a summary of their first and fourth chapters which focus on the idea of Racialization and differing explanations for it among evangelicals.
Many white evangelicals take a “benign view” of the Race Issue. However, a lack of awareness is a luxury only White Americans can enjoy. America is a nation in which “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities and social relationships.” White Americans tend to attribute this difference to individual factors such as lack of motivation or responsibility on the part of the individual whereas black Americans tend to attribute the difference due to structural factors such as lack of access to quality education and systematic discrimination. White and Black evangelicals are more divided in their answers than Black and White Americans in general, thus we are “Divided by Faith”. The rest of the book provides a theory for why this is the case complete with extensive historical and sociological analysis.
Many white evangelicals think that the Race Issue is really just mislabeled conflict, or that it is created by talking about it.
Debbie and Mary are two prototypical White Evangelicals in this regard:
Mislabeled Conflict, Rare
From Debbie’s perspective, much of what gets labeled “The race problem” merely represents inevitable disagreements between fallen human beings. Aside from this case of mistaken labeling, the true race problem, and it is relatively rare, is caused be individuals who view themselves as superior to others. Because Christians supposedly know that no one person is superior to any other person, the race problem exists mostly outside of the church.
Created By Talking About It, Selfish Gain
From Mary’s perspective, the race problem would disappear if it were not for separatists dividing the nation. Although we will always have a few prejudiced people, the race problem and racism are essentially dead, living on only because of the activities of separatists and others who stand to gain from the existence of a race problem.
However, a lack of awareness of the Race Issue is a luxury that only White Americans can enjoy.
Americans live in a racialized society, one in which our concept of “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” This does not assume, however, that most Americans are self-consciously racist.
because radicalization is embedded within the normal everyday operation of institutions, this framework understands that people need not intend their actions to contribute to racial division and inequality for their actions to do so.
Racialization can be observed across nearly every aspect of society including marriage, health, income, wealth, education, criminal justice, jobs, neighborhoods, housing, and church. Take the following brief examples:
African-American babies die at a rate over twice the frequency of white babies, African-American mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white Americans.
For blacks and whites, well over 90 percent of those who marry do so within their own racial group (e.g., only 1% of black married women are interracially married).
The current approximate ratio of two un-employed blacks for every one unemployed white has held nearly constant since 1950.
As of 1994, the median income of blacks was 62 percent of that of whites. This was essentially unchanged from nearly thirty years earlier (1967).
Why do these disparities exist? Explanations are Divided by Faith.
The authors surveyed and interviewed thousands of individuals to get a pulse on how, when confronted with the facts, people explain these racial disparities. The responses ranged along a spectrum of individual (e.g., not taking responsibility or lack of motivation) to structural (e.g., from lack of opportunity to quality education to discrimination).
In aggregate, Smith and Emerson found that White Americans tend to emphasize individual factors, such as lack of motivation and taking individual responsibility while African American respondents tended to emphasize structural factors, such as discrimination and lack of educational opportunity.
However, when it comes to Evangelicals, White Evangelical respondents emphasized individual factors even more than than white respondents in general and Black evangelical respondents emphasized structural factors such as discrimination even more than black respondents in general. Thus, Evangelicals are more divided on the issue of race than even the general American public is.
Using a combination of historical analysis, analysis of Christian Publications over time, surveys and one-on-one interviews, the rest this book explores the history and provides a theory of why this division has and continues to exist in American Evangelicalism.
C.S. Lewis preached the sermon “On a Slip of the Tongue” on January 29, 1956 at Cambridge’s Magdalen College chapel. It was the last sermon he preached. I read it in the complication of his papers, The Weight of Glory. This is a summary and outline of the main points. All quotes are his unless otherwise noted.
There is a temptation among Christians to view the Christian life like paying your taxes. We agree with the main principle of paying taxes, yet we nevertheless want to pay the minimum amount possible. But God does not want more of our time and attention. He wants us. God is love, but he cannot bless us unless we entrust ourselves completely to Him.
Lewis describes a “slip of the tongue” he had when saying a prayer:
I had meant to pray that I might so pass through things temporal that I finally lost not the things eternal; I found I had prayed so to pass through things eternal that I finally lost not the things temporal.
He attaches the following significance to it:
I come into the presences of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerable inconvenient when I have come out again into my “ordinary life”.
Lewis illustrates his point with the analogy of paying taxes:
Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope - we very ardently hope - that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.
Lewis describes why this is a plausible lie:
It is really possible to be carried away by religious emotion… into resolutions and attitudes which we shall, not sinfully but rationally, not when we are more worldly but when we are wiser, have cause to regret.
However, it is nevertheless a lie:
There is no parallel to paying taxes and living on the remainder. For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true; “He must increase and I decrease.”
Lewis explains why.
He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls… in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.
He then counters two possible misinterpretations of what he is saying:
I do not mean that each of us will necessarily be called to be a martyr or even an ascetic. That’s as may be. For some (nobody knows which) the Christian life will include much leisure, many occupations we naturally like. But these will be received from God’s hands.
Of course, I don’t mean that I can therefore as they say “sit back.” What God does for us, He does in us… We may never, this side of death drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government.
C.S. Lewis read “Membership” on February 10, 1945 to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, Oxford. I read it in the complication of his papers, The Weight of Glory. This is a summary and outline of the main points. All quotes are from the lecture unless otherwise noted.
The Christian life is not a private affair. But how can the Christian life at once reject individualism and yet counteract the secular notion of collectivism? The answer, Lewis says, is to consider the difference between Christian membership and secular collectivism. First, members in the body of Christ, like organs in a human body, have complementary functions, structure and even dignity whereas in the secular collective all members are interchangeable. Second, the body of Christ is eternal, whereas other collective bodies (e.g., clubs, societies, nations, etc…) are temporal.
“the idea that religion belongs to our private life—that it is, in fact, an occupation for the individual’s hour of leisure—is at once paradoxical, dangerous, and natural.”
It is paradoxical because this exaltation of the individual in the religious field springs up in an age when collectivism is ruthlessly defeating the individual in every other field.
But it is also dangerous for two reasons. In the first place, when the modern world says to us aloud, “You may be religious when you are alone,” it adds under its breath, “and I will see to it that you never are alone.”
In the second place, there is the danger that real Christians who know that Christianity is not a solitary affair may react against that error by simply transporting into our spiritual life that same collectivism which has already conquered our secular life.
though the private conception of Christianity is an error, it is a profoundly natural one… As personal and private life is lower than participation in the Body of Christ, so the collective life is lower than the personal and private life and has no value save in its service.
“A consideration of the differences between the secular collective and the mystical body is… the first step to understanding how Christianity without being individualistic can yet counteract collectivism.”
Individuals members are not interchangeable in the Body of Christ as they are in a collective
By members ([Greek]) Paul meant what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another, things differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity.
How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members or units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable.
“artificial equality is necessary in the life of the State, but… in the Church we strip off this disguise, we recover our real inequalities”
Political equality is necessary because of the fall:
since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The only remedy is to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality… the function of equality is purely protective.
But it is artificial, even if considered purely in secular terms.
If value is taken in a worldly sense - if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining - then it is nonsense.
This is not how we were made to live.
[Equality] is medicine, not food… But it is not on this what we were made to live… Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows nothing of it. Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines long which our spirits live.
“That structural position in the Church which the humblest Christian occupies is eternal and even cosmic”
There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life is extinct and every one of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men.
“Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism”
[Christianity] sets its face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own being, even of their bodies.