Ever since discovering them months ago, I’ve been very encouraged and edified by much of what I’ve read from The Gospel Coalition. Their authors’ penchant for grounded, Biblical viewpoints on issues of the day has been a breath of fresh air amidst the divisive rhetoric offered by worldly outlets. And I think that’s what made my disappointment with a recent piece from TGC referencing the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. most concerning – it seemed to echo the voice of the world more than the voice of Christ.
I do not know the author, a pastor from DC named Thabiti Anyabwile, but in a brief survey of some of his other writings I think this article in question, entitled “We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King,” seems an aberration. I certainly hope it is.
The title alone is bizarre and begs us to ask, “who exactly is ‘we’?” and “who are ‘we’ waiting to see repent?” To be clear, the man responsible for the murder of Dr. King, James Earl Ray, died in 1998. It would be impossible for the dead criminal to repent. So who should? And to whom is this repentance owed? Biblically speaking it would be to God and to the one(s) Ray harmed. So again, who is this “we” that Anyabwile’s title implies?
We find the answer in the article’s distressing conclusion:
Until this country and the Church learns to confess its particular sins particularly, we will not overcome the Adamic hostility that infects the human soul and distorts human potential…
My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.
While Anyabwile may be harboring personal experiences that could explain why he would allow his passions to run unrestrained here, these words are irresponsible and unproductive for Kingdom building. Concluding a guilt by association – or in this case, guilt by existence – is not becoming for Christian believers, nor does it do anything to foster a reconciliation that is at the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
The prophet Ezekiel spoke with clarity to God’s people, proclaiming, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor shall the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” It seems that in seeking a personal or racial restitution for the murderous crime against Dr. King, Mr. Anyabwile abandons that Biblical truth.
Doing so from such a public platform as The Gospel Coalition necessitates a public rebuke.
Perhaps Anyabwile’s intent was to highlight ongoing problems associated with racial acrimony in our culture, or the dangerous mainstreaming of fringe white supremacist thought in the age of social media. Had he done that, he would have received no disagreement from me. But instead, he dropped a stinging blanket condemnation of the country’s white population over 50 for the collective sins of racism and the personal sin of murder.
Personally, I can speak to how far his words fell short of the mark. My grandpa, a World War II veteran, recently spoke to my class of high school history students. During the course of his talk, he mentioned the black sailor he befriended aboard the USS Purdy. He told the students about the Navy’s discriminatory policies that kept his friend from sharing barracks, eating in the same mess hall, or fulfilling the same duties as him. He spoke of how the black man would constantly tell grandpa that they were going to be alright because his “mama” was praying for them back in Louisiana. And grandpa told them that the two brothers-in-arms had planned to reconnect once the war had ended.
My grandpa was well ahead of the culture on the issue of civil rights, and he raised my mom to be the same way. They both, along with my dad and my other grandparents, mourned the loss of Dr. King 50 years ago. They are not in any way, “complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.” Nor are a great many of Thabiti Anyabwile’s lighter-skinned Christian brothers that he harmed with his fruitless accusation.
I choose to believe that Anyabwile and all those at The Gospel Coalition have the best interest of the Body in mind. But if we Christians are to be true to the admonition in Colossians to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone,” it’s fair to ask if following this column they should be on the asking end rather than the receiving end of the repentance issue.