We live in a world of teams, sound bytes, and idealistic solutions to complex problems. We also live in a world of deception, a world filled with the corrupting influence of the Fall. The solutions to our problems are seemingly simple, an ample dose of true-truth, and yet it is not so simple in application. After all, it is we fallen and flawed humans who attempt to apply true-truth, or worse idealistic ideas centered on derivatives, perversions and inversions of something we call truth. There are no simple solutions, nor will there ever be. It is likewise true that there is no simple diagnosis to our problems beyond the obvious -man in a fallen world, utterly incapable of applying true-truth consistently and faithfully in a way that eradicates and untangles the wicked and complex problems we face.


Sitting on a table in the corner of my office is Wendell Berry’s latest book, The Need to Be Whole. I desperately want to finish it but circumstances have kept me from it. I have only gleaned his general approach, one that I share. There is a problem in America that takes on the face of a race problem and this problem is complex and intricate. It is a problem that if left to fester will be one of the primary catalysts for the ultimate demise and fall of our system. However, this problem is not described honestly or accurately by any group, left or right, that proclaims they have a solution.


If I have adequately described Berry’s opening thesis I would personally only disagree in that this complex problem exists in a mosaic of similarly complex problems and the American system as many that still live idealize is not just teetering on the edge of collapse. Collapse has already begun, Caesarism, anarcho-tyranny, and decline are our lot and it is inevitable at this point. The only question that remains is what will come after and how much chaos and suffering will ensue. Who will suffer, who will make enemies between their group and another? What, if anything can be saved and what might the future look like?


It is true, one need only look around, there are entire demographic swaths of humanity, citizens of these United States, that are in practical and functional terms not part of society writ large. It is possible to be born here, grow up, attend government schools, and for the most part speak the language of the empire and yet have no hope of ever being part of anything more than what you were born into. This comprises perhaps millions of people. Under-informed, ill-educated, poor, and dependent upon government subsidies and/or illicit activities. It is also true that of the millions born into this condition in America, many are Black.


This is not exclusively true. In Appalachia, and across rural America the same can be said to be true. The causality is different, the scale in sheer numbers is less but you find the same sort of hopelessness, poverty, listlessness, drug use, and crime in many rural places as urban. It is smaller and less seen but it is there. I point this out merely to say that the problem of citizens being incapable of truly joining society is real, it has different causes and therefore different solutions, but it is not simply a matter of focusing on one thing, perhaps a made-up or exaggerated thing, to find a solution.


On the right those enamored with the falsehoods of “free-market” point to the exceptions. Exceptional men born in depressing circumstances as a solution. Thomas Sowell is a favorite example. Yet, Thomas Sowell is probably a genius. He definitely resides on the right quadrant of the bell curve in terms of mental ability. Hard work, character and ability certainly can make a difference, but what about those that reside on the mean and below? On the left it is a simple statement that “racism did it”, it is all about slavery, oppression and power dynamics.  There is truth and lies in that but it is not nearly as simple as the slogans they utter routinely.


“Slavery Was Evil”


This is a phrase that is uttered today without debate but it is infinitely more complex than all that. Every institution of man is touched by the corruption of man, all institutions of man ultimately contain evil. The ugly fact is there were black Americans who lived under slavery that had objectively better lives than many Americans have now under our corporate “free-market” system.  A slave that was fortunate enough to work for a benevolent owner had purpose in work, food, shelter, medical care, and a retirement plan. Many Americans in our current system lack the dignity of purpose and for that they lack hope and true happiness.


I attend First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, a historic congregation. The church itself struggles with history and its role in it. In antebellum times members brought their slaves to church with them and the slaves sat in the balcony. Under pressure from the world, the congregation has felt the need to apologize for this. This misses the point. Praise God those image bearers of God attended church with their employers and heard the Gospel. If they had never come to this continent, their ancestors, conquered and enslaved by other Africans might have been sold into slavery in the Muslim world. Perhaps they would have been sent to the Caribbean or South America where slaves died in large numbers. On the American continent, the black population thrived and grew under the system of slavery. Praise God that the ancestors of current black Americans sat in balconies in a land where they could hear the word, where one day their children would be free. We seem to entirely miss the point of how complex history is when we begin apologizing for complex things we seem to not fully understand.


This idea of calling one economic system evil while ignoring the complexities of the world and the utter evil in all systems was a hallmark of much theology in the North before 1860. It seems that perhaps only Hodge was capable of not being fully infected by idealism in their theology. We see the roots of it. There is hardly any Presbyterianism to be found in the North now, if by that we mean something more than a form of government. Tim Keller was merely a decade or two behind PC-USA heresy, error that has swept into even the historic seat of the PCA with good intentions.


Merely calling slavery evil and in a reductionist fashion accepting the lie that all of the ills in society are a result of racism is not just error, it is an absolute lie. It was evil to work children and women to the bone in factories in the North, it is evil to allow bankers, financiers and money-changers to hold sway over politics, the lives of men, and the future of society. Greed has always been evil. Not treating other humans with basic dignity has always been evil. Stations, vocations and places in society are not in and of themselves evil, Jesus told us to honor our station and if necessary, be good slaves.


It was evil to “free slaves” without any plan to employ or house them. Three million or so souls in the South became unemployed and without a place to live after plantation owners could no longer afford to pay taxes much less purchase seed. Freedom to wander, search, scratch, and claw was no freedom at all. We often bemoan the destruction of the black family in America but much of that blame must be laid at those who set in motion circumstances that forced black men to leave families to seek work.


It is complex. In one important sense, it would have been better if not one black slave was ever brought to these shores. That is a statement often made in ignorance. In reality, it was better for all of the descendants of those that came here and through their sweat and toil added their voices to the mix that became our culture, particularly Southern Culture. America, Southern America particularly, is simply not the same land without the stories, music and culture of that people interwoven into the tapestry of our collective quilt. What is wrong with all these apologist and race-baiters? Praise God, sacrifice, struggle and hardship define a people. Look at the potential of it all, what it could have been.


Look at what it is. An entire demographic that one political party treats as slaves even now, happy to keep them on the government dole, always eager to spread lies and hatred among them in order to secure votes. There is no love in the progressive policies that have done so much further damage to black folks in America. There is no justice or truth in rabble-rousing activists that are filled with hate and lies. There is no compassion in ‘conservatives’ that merely say "get a job". We took a thing that could have become an epic story of a collective American experience and turned it into Uncle Tom lies, needless war, poverty, diaspora, and government subsistence. Slavery did not do that, slavery is a common theme of many peoples, it makes people. We created all of this through idealism and worshipping at the altar of ‘current’ sensibilities.




Stop listening to the world, the world is full of lies and those that scream the loudest are often the more expert liars. Stop accepting simple blanket statement slogans without thought or reflection. “slavery was evil” well yes, the system made it possible at times for evil men to do evil, but so to do all economic systems. There were many Christian slave owners, many, that treated their charges as imagers of God. Stop accepting simple solutions to complex problems. Racism is not the problem, this is a culture and socio-economic problem now. Stop demeaning black folks. If your church shows up at the one or two truly reformed seminaries each year with the intent of “recruiting a black guy” you have missed the mark. Maybe that young man ought to preach to black folks, kinds are not a bad thing, stop thinking that, all the kinds are beautiful. You recruiting a black guy from seminary in the hope you can add a few black members to your church seems, well self-righteous to me. Empower and encourage that man to do what he feels called to do, do not entice him with your nice salary and pretty building!


Beyond what folks need to stop doing, and there is more (purge all Tim Keller books and sermons from the library and all that are in his orbit), but there are more practical things.


Churches need to do what churches are supposed to do. Proclaim true-truth to the world. Only true-truth is the answer, Christ is the redeemer of our sins. There are cultural issues to speak on, but poverty and socioeconomic conditions pale in comparison to the mutilation of children and so much else going on. If you are investing resources in what the winds of the world have blown you to, apologizing for history you seem not to fully understand, and peppering your staff with many colors, it might be that you are seeking validation and relevance. The problems of despair and poverty are real and they undoubtedly hurt, and they might be the most important thing in the world to those suffering under that yoke, but these are not the most important issues in our world. If this is the cultural issue that you choose to plant your flag on you have missed the mark.


At the same time, preaching the Gospel, the true-truth ought to be widespread. It is my observed opinion that black folks in many places are ill-served by false churches. Conversely, there are solid Gospel-preaching men there. Doing it rightly, not to look open-minded or to seek numbers, but authentically supporting and partnering with authentic Gospel preachers seems a worthy effort. Presbyterians though ought to remember the folly of partnering with doctrinally weak churches (the Congregationalist union comes to mind). True-truth can only be proclaimed over time when buttressed by sound doctrine. Partnership is a fad, fads are dangerous.


Beyond that, being honest in dialogue. Too many have merely abdicated common-sense and truth and accepted words and phrases used by those that ultimately stand in opposition to God. “This is evil” these people caused that” etc. Those are detestable lies that fail to comport with a mature understanding of the complexities of history. Many mistakes have been made, and if we are honest, most of the carnage and despair is a direct result of the very same people that have claimed for 150 years to have the best interests of black people at heart. Progressivism is idealism, it is hubris, it is the spirit of the Tower of Babel and it never bears good fruit. Stop accepting the lies of those foolish (or evil) people.


We need to push back on people who call themselves conservative also. There are few real conservatives among us. True conservatives are concerned with the permanent things. Families and good things of culture are permanent things. “Conservative” policies since WWII have conserved nothing, instead merely arguing about the scope of progressive policies while enabling corporations. True Christians cannot be progressives and must always be conservative, but not the sort we have come to believe conservatism consists of. We should be very concerned about the dignity of image bearers, and of opportunity and of families. We also must understand responsibility and consequences. Unless we are willing to speak out and reform politics and seek to conserve what is real, we need to be silent on the socioeconomic issues and stop parroting the flawed and evil approach of both left and right talking points. Following the winds of change and accepting their terms and their definitions merely makes you part of the problem and perhaps unqualified to rise and speak further.