Communal Sin in the 21st Century, Pt. 1
Though we struggle mightily with the concept of communal sin in our 21st century context, it’s vital that we recover a basic understanding of wrongdoing that takes us beyond narrow individualism. How else can we account for grave systemic injustice in all of our institutions? Trying to lay the blame at a single person’s feet is not only naïve, it vastly oversimplifies the problem. In this six-part series, we’ll take a close look at some of our nation’s abiding communal sins, taking into account systemic racism, communal sin in politics, the church, the entertainment industry, and the workplace. Having traced these destructive patterns in our cultural moment, we’ll then turn to the biblical account of communal sin and see how it both makes sense of our dilemma and offers the only feasible hope. This episode considers the communal sin of systemic racism.
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Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to the Vital Signs podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you very much for tuning in today. We're going to begin a six part series titled “Communal Sin in the 21st Century.” I've been thinking a lot about the nature of communal sin, it brings up some very notable tensions with us nowadays and it's a difficult topic. It's a complex topic, but I am more and more convinced that it's a very necessary topic.
I gave a nod to the fact that we'd be doing a series on this and the last series on “How Do We Forgive the Unforgivable,” and so here we are. Now the format of this six-part series on communal sin is going to be a little odd. So let me say a few words about the format, my reasoning behind that, and then I'll talk a little bit about the why and give some context here as well. I do have to warn you though that this episode in particular deals with some very difficult themes and this series in general will, because these are very serious.
We really have a hard time. Many of us, not all of us, and I'll talk more about that many versus all, but many of us have a hard time thinking about sin or moral shortcomings, moral failure in communal terms. We tend to be very individualistic in our thinking and we tend to think about crimes being perpetrated by individuals and so therefore you take care of the one person who committed this crime, deal with them, and that should take care of everything. If we just zoom out, of course, that's a pretty naive view and also it's not the way human interactions, human relationships, or society functions at all.
But let me say a few words about the format here. Now, normally it's my habit to not bury the lead, so to speak, to begin immediately from scripture, which is always my starting point, since I'm a Christian. But I've chosen for this particular series not to do that and here's why. First of all, I'm very straight forward about the fact that I am a Christian, so I'm coming from a Christian standpoint here as I talk about communal sin. And indeed, even the word, “sin,’ this is Christian terminology right here, but I want to begin with where we are at and then work our way from our own context to some of the biblical stories that help make sense of our context.
So I'm doing this because communal sin, the notion of communal sin can sound somewhat foreign to us and to some of us it may even sound outlandish. Now, context is critical here. Bear in mind that I am situated here in the Atlanta area. I am in the Bible Belt South. So that setting plays a real crucial part in my approach to this topic as well, and the ways in which I've begun thinking about it. So what we're going to do in the first episode, is we're going to actually look at probably one of the more difficult aspects of communal sin here in North America.
We're going to look at specific instances of systemic racism. But before I get there, what part one is going to look at, we're going to basically just reserve this episode to talk about systemic racism. And I'll say more about that in a moment, but at the risk of dying the death of a thousand qualifications, I cannot possibly do adequate justice to this subject, and I'll talk more about that in a second. There are so many aspects to it, but my hope here, I'll consider this worthwhile. I'll consider this a success if I simply get us thinking about this a little bit more deeply.
I'll especially consider this worthwhile if you are somebody who is immediately on guard when I use the phrase, “systemic racism.” If that immediately causes you to put your guard up or to start feeling a bit defensive, I hope that this series can function as a challenge to push you a little bit in your thinking. So this episode, we're going to look at systemic racism. Remember this is a six part series, so in part two we're going to look at communal sin in politics, entertainment, and the workplace. So part two, we'll look at communal sin, that is sin that involves more than one person that has communal repercussions.
We're going to look at it in the realm of politics, in entertainment and in work. Now, each of these three is so important. The reason I'm dedicating this entire episode to race is because of how massive this issue is and how important and how high the stakes are. I think it really does merit this entire episode and indeed could merit much more. But then part three is where we start to look at the biblical narratives that help us to make sense of communal sin and show us the very practical out workings.
You see, scripture deals with reality and scripture presents people to us who are real flesh and blood people. People who make mistakes, but not only do they make mistakes, when they make mistakes, everyone around them is affected. And so in part three we will look at Adam and Eve in the garden, probably the most primal picture of communal sin. And we'll get into some very interesting doctrine, namely the doctrine of original sin, perhaps one of the most controversial, one of the most hated down the ages of Christian doctrines, but actually one that I think is ultimately very encouraging and deeply compelling because it provides such a powerful lens for human behavior, for explaining human behavior.
So that's part three, looking at Adam and Eve. Part four we'll look at Achan’s sin. That's all I'm going to say for right now, the episode we'll be looking at the outplaying of this in the book of Joshua. But Achan’s sin, one man's sin and it involves the entire family. That also will be a difficult episode because we as 21st century people really struggle with that story. So maybe you want to read ahead a little bit. So that's Achan’s sin. Part five, we're going to look at king David's sin with Bathsheba, another sin, another moral shortcoming, failure that has massive consequences for many more people than just David and Bathsheba.
And then finally in the concluding episode, we'll look at communal sin in the New Testament. And specifically, I want to look at the apostle Peter, a very interesting character in and of himself, very bold guy, many ups and downs for Peter. All I'm going to say right now is that this is one of the more remarkable instances to me of somebody being confronted in scripture and it's preserved for us down the ages by the apostle Paul. So some of you will know what I'm talking about already, but that part six, we'll look at Peter.
So let's talk about the episode today. Let's talk about communal sin in the 21st century in our own day in context, let's talk about systemic racism in this nation. Now, another important factor to note here is the elephant in the room. So I am a white male, middle-class person. So for those reasons I cannot speak with as much authority on this subject. And so let me make two quick recommendations of people who are very, very helpful on the intersection of Christianity and questions related to racism. I'm very happy to count them both as colleagues.
The first is Lisa Fields. Lisa Fields is the president and founder of Jude 3. I highly recommend her work. Jude 3 is doing amazing work. They've got a whole movement that she's called Courageous Conversations where she puts people of very different ideological persuasions together and they actually have civil conversations and disagreements. But she's very incisive on this topic, she's got podcasts. I highly recommend following Lisa Fields. The other is my colleague and friend Brandon Cleaver, and actually he's got an entire series that's just launched on our website, rzim.org.
So if you go there, you can follow Brandon Cleaver's work. And Cleaver also works quite a bit with Lisa Fields. So I highly recommend these two to you. Again, I'm aware that I'm in difficult territory from the onset and even what I've said here, even my qualifications run the risk of putting a lot of listeners on edge. So let me just expand on why I think it's important for me to say that I can't speak with as much authority. I have said before, I am not a nominalist. I do not think that all of us are isolated in our totally individual perspectives and experiences.
And I know that in many ways you can look at the world of identity politics, another extremely complex issue that we're dealing with today and you can look at the way people will weaponize their experiences and basically use that to make themselves immune to everybody else's critiques and say something along the lines of, "Well, my particular experiences are mine alone and you can't possibly enter into my shoes. Therefore, you can't possibly offer any critique of my position. You are only and exclusively there to listen and sit at my feet because my experiences of exploitation or marginalization put me in a different category and I am able to have insight here, insight or knowledge that you can never claim."
What makes that difficult is there are aspects of truth to that. I remember sitting next to a soldier on an airplane and when he figured out what I did for a living, that I'm an apologist and I go around the United States answering difficult questions, he immediately talked to me about suffering and what suffering had done to his faith. The catastrophic effect suffering had had on his faith and he had seen so many of his friends die terrible deaths. And I had to say to him, "Well, I can interact with you in this conversation, but there are certain levels of your experience, the very nature of your experiences that are not my experiences. I haven't lost people the way you have. I have not been on an active duty. I haven't seen what you've seen. You've seen things I'll never see," and that's true.
And it was important to make that qualification and to state you've experienced what I have not experienced here. You do have a level of insight here that I do not have, that's true. But on the other hand, we have to maintain balance because it is not the case that because I haven't had those same experiences, I am incapable of empathizing. It is not the case that because I haven't entered into those specific experiences, in this case, being a soldier in active duty and losing somebody in combat. Because I haven't experienced that, it is not the case that I can't in some deeper sense relate, empathize, enter into those experiences with this person. Why?
Well, I can do it on the basis of our common and shared humanity. Because we are both of us human beings, I do have a level of purchase on those experiences. I do have a level of purchase on any experience of another human being, no matter how seemingly foreign, I do affirm a common thread of humanity. I told you I'm not a nominalist, I think humanity is a universal category. And so therefore it is possible to enter in to these experiences in a deeper way, not completely, not fully. There are levels of insight that this soldier has that I simply won't have.
And the same holds true here when I'm talking about people of color who are, I would recognize as people made in the image of God, my brothers and sisters and fellow human beings. But that said, I think I need to have a posture of listening rather than constantly explaining and preaching because the experiences that so many people of color go through here in the United States, they represent a level of experience that is in many ways, foreign to me. And so if you have a friend who is from an ethnically diverse background or a person of color, just if you are a person who is middle-class and white, especially if you're male, middle of class and white, it is a guarantee you have had probably an easier, more carefree life than this person.
Ask them about their experiences with police, ask them about their experiences in moving around in public places. I remember a story that really helped pull the wool from my eyes a little bit here, was when I was talking to a friend of mine who is a person of color and this person told me there is never a time or almost never a time when I am not aware of my race as an actual factor. When I walk into a room, where I'm walking in a public place and it dawned on me I almost never think in those terms.
I'm not thinking in terms of my racial profile, my background, my ethnic background. I don't think about that when I'm driving in the car and I see a police officer, I don't think about that when I'm in the grocery store. I don't think about that when I'm in a restaurant, I don't think about that when I'm walking through the airport. And it struck me how I never had noticed this before. Then I remember one time recently where I was keenly aware of it and kind of the roles were reversed a little bit was when my wife and I went to a circus performance and we were definitely the minority in the audience.
We were some of the few Caucasians in that audience and it was a really interesting experience. It was the first time in the recent past that I can remember actually being aware of myself as a white person sitting there. It was totally unique and it was so eye-opening and I remember my wife and I talking about it afterwards and saying, "This is really healthy. We need more of this." So that's why I put in that qualifier. So I hope what comes across in this episode, I hope it sounds as though it comes from a posture of listening.
I'm reporting here mainly some of the factors that I see because I think that this is one of the most egregious and dangerous and important pictures of communal sin that still is really, really damaging this nation in which I find myself, my home, the United States. So that's why I want to talk about this here. So now with all of those qualifications in place, and it still feels to me as though they're not enough, let me proceed. So there is a sound bite that has made its way around the internet and I'm not going to name the source.
Some of you will know the source already, but the soundbite goes something like this. “Well racism is indeed evil and we should fight it with all that we're worth. And I keep hearing about systemic racism, so show it to me. Where is it? Show me it so we can deal with it. Because I think racism is evil and it needs to be dealt with instantly.” And I've heard this circulate quite a bit and then often when it's brought up really in sort of a very quick exchange, the other person is presented as being silent.
And the implication seems to be that the charge of systemic racism is little more than a "liberal soundbite" and that people take it and run with it, but they actually don't know what they're talking about and that there really is not that much evidence for systemic racism. That's the implication. Well, I think that's deeply misguided. So what I want to do is actually provide some, what I think is very practical evidence for systemic racism. And I'm doing this with a view to showing you that this is an ongoing problem here, but also that this is a large scale sin that implicates more than just an individual.
This is a collective sin that has implications for all of us and it points up the problem of communal sin in today's world. The concept is not so foreign as it might seem. I'm going to name three books here, and by the way, I think each of these books is very worth your time. I would highly recommend each of them and all of these are dealing with one specific aspect of systemic racism. So here's another qualification. I told you I'm only scratching the surface. There could easily be an entire podcast on this.
Indeed, there should be podcasts on this and there should be more and more books on this documenting all of this. I'm looking at one small aspect and the aspect I'm considering is namely policy and it really surrounds real estate and housing. We could also look, for instance, at incarceration rates and the justice system. And by the way, if you are interested in doing a deep dive into racial injustice in the justice system, you couldn't do much better than probably Brian Stevenson's Just Mercy.
Bryan Stevenson of course, he's a lawyer and he's also the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and in his book, Just Mercy, has just been made into a film adaptation as well. There's also the book, The New Jim Crow. I would highly recommend that. That's a more challenging read. There are more academic aspects to that book, but also very, very helpful on this issue. But here the three books that I'm looking at are Richard Rothstein's monumental, The Color of Law, and then Richard Florida's, The New Urban Crisis.
And don't worry, I'll repeatedly draw from these books so I'll unpack them a little bit. And then finally, Brian McCabe's, No Place Like Home. And the subtitle of Brian McCabe's, No Place Like Home is Wealth, Community, and the Politics of Homeownership. A magnificent book actually very, very helpful. But Richard Rothstein's, The Color of Law is really a monumental achievement and it's really helping us to see how so much of what we would call racism, systemic racism comes under the rubric of actual policy. Let me give you one specific example that he gives in the book.
So there's a case when the Chicago Housing Authority, and this is in the 1970s, this is during the presidency of Gerald Ford, so this is in the range of ‘74 to ‘77. So the Chicago Housing Authority was trying to build public housing projects in some predominantly white areas. So this was an attempt to bring in more equality to real estate. So the response from no less than president Gerald Ford's solicitor general, a gentleman named Robert Bork, was that he immediately wanted to block this and he immediately tried to stop it. And indeed, he did stop it.
And he said, here's a quote from Robert Bork, "There will be an enormous practical impact on innocent communities who have to bear the burden of the housing." There will be an enormous practical impact on innocent communities who have to bear the burden of the housing. So this public housing would have an enormous and unfair impact on innocent communities. Now by innocent communities, basically he just means white communities. So as Rothstein points out here, the federal government is arguing that non-discriminatory housing policy is a mistreatment of the innocent.
And so you see here that this is a top-down policy that is there to prevent certain people from getting into certain neighborhoods, plain and simple. And there are financial factors to it, there's all sorts of zoning laws that come into place. But what is happening here is that a people group is being blocked on the basis of protecting the supposed innocence and integrity of predominantly white neighborhoods. And there are other examples also from the Chicago area. Chicago by the way, is in many ways a pretty interesting and notorious example in this regard.
But often there would be liquor stores and other kinds of places that would be linked to crime, they would be linked to devious behavior. Oftentimes these places would be built in a deliberate effort to keep these kinds of zones solidified. They'd be built near public housing projects or near predominantly black communities and then this would of course continued to drive property values down. And it becomes this kind of vicious cycle because people who live in these neighborhoods, these kind of downtrodden neighborhoods don't qualify for the same kinds of loans as those who live in better neighborhoods.
And the longer they're there, the more difficult it is to get out or to drive up property values in the first place because these policies ensure that these communities are kept exactly where they're at. So this is pretty damning evidence here. Rothstein also, he cites the US Commission on Civil Rights, in 1973 this was their conclusion. And by the way, why was this commission on civil rights active in the first place? Well, that's because in 1973 generally around this time in the nation's history, tensions were so fraught and there was more and more racial tension and there was more and more deep unrest and even riotous behavior in urban centers, places like Detroit, places like Baltimore and places like Chicago, and so the US Commission on Civil Rights reached this conclusion.
Here's what they say, "Housing industry aided and abetted by government must bear the primary responsibility for the legacy of segregated housing. Government and private industry came together to create a system of residential segregation." Now, by the way, notoriously, this report was largely ignored by the White House. Now let's go back to that earlier response by the way, that earlier soundbite that I told you about, show me evidence of systemic racism so we can deal with it. All right, so I can give you evidence like this. There are various tools we can use to explain it away.
Some of you are probably already thinking, "Well, no, no. The primary driving factor here isn't race. These are economic policies and economic factors." Sure. Economic policies and economic factors play a role here but we can use those to shield ourselves from what's actually going on here and that is a deliberate top-down attempt to keep certain people groups segregated. And notice also the other difficult factor here is you can't just point to one single individual and then pull them forward and then implicate them and then it's all done.
There are whole communities who are implicated here and these are long standing systems. This is not long ago, by the way, this is 1973. And of course, I hardly need to point out that we are living with the consequences of this to this very day. If you go to Chicago, if you go to Baltimore, if you go to virtually any major American city, you're still going to find these kinds of lines in place. It's very difficult to undo this and it's not just one single culprit, it's lots of people working together. Some of it is direct, aggressive, active hatred, some of it is more passive, some of it is complicity.
We'll see this more as we talk about communal sin in Hollywood as we talk about it in the White House, as we talk about it in the workplace. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation, whether it's in a work environment, whether it's in a neighborhood where we live and we know in the back of our minds some of our choices, whether it's the housing that we have or whether it's the job that we're taking or whether it's some of the environmental policies that we're supporting. We know that there are disastrous possible effects. Maybe there are some unethical policies going on, but by and large we kind of just go with the flow.
It's very, very dangerous to just go with the flow. That's the whole term, you've probably heard before, the phrase “woke” and “wokeness” actually does have some real significance here because what it's getting at is finally having our eyes opened to what was actually right in front of our face and all around us. And so there are multiple participants here, some very active and aggressive and some more passive, some just kind of getting on with their lives, continuing to give out loans the way their company gives out loans, continuing to make business decisions that are just...
Well, we just have to go off the numbers and the credit reports and after all this person, I know that they happened to be from a certain marginalized group but yes, their numbers are low here, they are risk. And on and on we could go and you just kind of go with the flow. So there are those elements as well. Richard Florida points out in his book, The New Urban Crisis, you've probably heard before about what took place in the cities largely in the 1970s was the phrase that was coined to capture, it was “white flight.” And so you have that.
And then because there's a lack of support, because there's a lack of actual people really pouring into those centers in those communities, there's deterioration that begins to happen. But now there's an opposite kind of movement that's happening with the exact same dynamic that's displayed. And that's more people are moving into the city so that you've got increasingly upper middle class and wealthy people moving back to the city. And what's happening is they're basically taking over the best sections, the best districts effectively kind of colonizing them.
And those who are less fortunate, those who are economically not as well off, are forced into some of the outer regions. So it's the same dynamic again. And so here's the direct quote from Richard Florida, “As the advantaged groups colonize the best neighborhoods, they gain access to the most and the best economic opportunities, the best schools and libraries, and the best services and amenities, all of which compound their advantages and reinforce their children's prospects for upward mobility. The less advantaged are shunted into neighborhoods with more crime, worse schools, and the dimmest prospects for upward mobility.”
Simply put, the rich live where they choose and the poor live where they can. Now I can hear already critics piping up and saying, "Well, basically this sounds a little bit like Marxist theory at work where you're basically casting everything in terms of the oppressed and the oppressor and this isn't helpful for anybody. America, after all, is a great meritocracy and with a little bit of hard work and follow through and careful ambition and fierce determination, anybody can work their way out of any situation. People simply need to take responsibility for their actions."
Now again, there are kernels of truth there. That's what makes that line of thinking, I think, deeply insidious. On the one hand, it's true. We absolutely, each of us, do have to take responsibility for our actions and indeed one of the very dangerous kind of captive mindsets that sets in with human beings, wherever they find themselves, as if they will not or refuse to take responsibility and cast themselves as permanent victims. Because what's so insidious about that is that will keep the person where they are at. It will stop them from having any grander aspirations that will stop them from really trying to get out of the situation that they're in.
But on the other hand, on the other hand, if you are born into a place with absolutely gross disadvantages, you are born into a neighborhood that's impoverished, you're born into a household that's broken and there are cycles of abuse, there are cycles of crime, there are cycles of poverty in which you find yourself, you are born with many, many predispositions. One of the more apt comparisons I can think of is a child born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Yes, in theory, there's the possibility that this child can grow into a healthy and well-functioning and adult. But we recognize this child has gross disadvantages and that there's a massive disproportion between the possibilities that this child has versus a child born healthy to a healthy mother, into a healthy household, raised in a healthy community.
This is just to illustrate how stark the difference is. And so it's not just as simple as telling somebody, "Well, this is a meritocracy on the basis of hard work. You can get out there and you really can make a name for yourself." You have to know the right people to do that, first of all. You have to have connections. You remember the phrase, “It's all who you know.” That's really true and that's true because we are communal creatures. We are relational creatures. That's why we deal with communal sin.
And as we'll see when we get to scripture, sin, individual sins, always have communal and public consequences, always, because we are relational creatures. And if you are born into massive disadvantage, chances are from a cultural standpoint, you don't know the right people. You don't have the right mentors around you, you don't know the right people for any job prospects. So yes, in theory, it's possible for you to rise above your circumstances. It's possible almost in the same way that it's possible for you to win the lottery.
The chances of you actually doing that are exceedingly remote and many of them don't have much to do with you taking ownership or you actually taking responsibility for your actions, they have to do with where you are and the fact that you are in many ways trapped, born into this kind of disadvantage. Now, I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm not trying to paint an impossibly bleak picture. I am trying to paint a picture that I hope rouses some of us from our slumber and makes us realize this matters greatly.
And if you're a Christian and you believe every person is made in the image of God, this should matter to you terribly. Because after all, these are people made in the image of God and they are fellow human beings and they deserve to have opportunities, they deserve to be able to move beyond those kinds of circumstances. And so many of these systemic factors that come all the way from the very top down and they come in the impersonal and highly technical legal language of a policy, often this is what keeps these kinds of systems of inequality in place. There are so many of them, and again I'm just scratching the surface of one of them that happens to involve neighborhoods, housing, red lining, gentrification and good old fashioned segregation that just keeps cropping up in more sophisticated forms.
I think of these three books, the one that I find personally the most fascinating though is Brian McCabe's, No Place Like Home. And again, the subtitle there is, Wealth, Community, and the Politics of Homeownership. The reason that I think I've seized on this particular book is because it is the closest to where I find myself. It really hits home, so to speak, no pun intended, because I live in the suburbs and this book has a lot to say about the way home ownership has functioned in America as an economic factor, but also the kind of mythology surrounding home ownership.
So the argument has often been advanced that home ownership really is a cure for so many social ills. Now this makes a little bit of sense. People have been saying, "Well, if you're a home owner, you're not just renting, but you own the home now. Now you have real ownership. You're going to take care of your property, you care, you're invested. It's going to foster greater community and it'll lead to..." I mean, just everybody wins. It's a good economic kind of growth strategy and it helps you invest in your community and it helps you get more involved on the ground.
Also, nothing quite invites you into the American dream like being a home owner. You can't possibly feel disenfranchised if you own a home. By the way, home ownership was recommended as a kind of cure to a lot of the social and racial unrest in the 1970s. The answer was for many government officials actually, well home ownership because now you have your own little piece of the American pie, so to speak, and now you have your little corner of the American dream and this will satisfy you.
In some ways, it's almost touchingly naive to hear it put like that. By the way, home ownership was also put forward as a cure for people who were flirting with Marxism during the Cold War period. Well, if they've got some Marxist leanings and if they're talking a lot about the proletariat, maybe they've got a communist manifesto hidden under their bed, well, you know what they need? They need a house. They actually need to be home owners and then they will see the benefits and the beauty of the free market and they will see the beauty of capitalism and the American dream.
Now, what McCabe does in this book is he demythologizes home ownership and shows us how it actually works with human beings. Now again, I'm going to step forward as a Christian here and say that I think the doctrine of original sin, that we are all not just broken individuals who are hurt and repeatedly have run-ins in our society, but that we are ourselves broken, fallen and that this goes to the very heart of who we are. I think that makes the most sense of this. But he points out of course, home ownership, on the one hand, it does lead to investment in your community, but it's an investment motivated usually by pure self-interest.
You're concerned with property value and you want to keep up your lawn, you want your neighbors to keep up their lawn. This is why you have an HOA. You want all of these policies in place, not for the benefit of the community, certainly not to foster greater diversity, no. Anything that drives property values down here is bad. So this is really self-preservation and self-interest. Now, many of you are probably thinking, "What's wrong with self-preservation and self-interest? What's wrong with caring about the value of your home? What's wrong with wanting a return on your investment?"
Well, nothing in and of itself, but if you're prioritizing the value of your home over equal opportunities for other human beings, we have a problem. That is a problem. And historically and up to this very day, that's how some of the most sophisticated versions of systemic racism continue to flourish because certain individuals who don't fit the correct profile of this "innocent neighborhood" would drive property values down here. So therefore, we need to come up with different policies that would prevent them from happening, whether it's some sort of predatory loans or red lining, you name it. And this continues to happen.
Miroslav Volf in Exclusion & Embrace, points out that the defining metaphor of our society that binds us together, that provides the picture of how we work together and of how we all coalesce as a nation is a contract. And this is very much the defining metaphor of liberalism and the liberal order in general. And a contract very much is designed to minimize risk, to ensure that you receive and reap the maximal benefit and anything by the way, that would infringe on that or that would rob you of some perceived value is deemed bad, needs to be avoided, needs to be stopped.
Now we can see the shortcomings of this immediately. We're not, again, autonomous atomistic individuals and we can't simply measure risk in these terms when it comes to fellow human beings. If a certain people group move into your neighborhood and that drives down property values, if a certain kind of housing project near your neighborhood threatens to drive down the value of your own property, search your heart. What is your response and why do you respond that way? It may just be the innocent responsive, "Well, I don't want my property value to go down. I've invested in this home. It means something to me."
Of course, that's a natural response. But if your own self-interest is winning out over some chance for another person from a more disadvantaged group to maybe be on close to equal footing, to maybe step out of their circumstances beyond their circumstances, wouldn't you want that for them instead of trying to block it or just tacitly going along with what everybody else is doing? All things here in the United States are not as they should be and I think we're coming to reckon with this more and more.
For Christians, the main metaphor for human relationships and indeed our function in society is not a contract, it's a covenant. It's covenantal and it's covenantal because it is predicated, our interactions with other human beings are predicated on the assumption that they're made in the image of God. Now, there are insidious, I do believe that racism is a basic function of human sin and that it crops up in various ways in all different cultures, but we always have to deal with specific sins too. I said that in the last series.
If you're not dealing with specific sins, if we're not dealing with specific sins, we're not interested in really moving past them, we're not interested in dealing with them in the first place and we're not interested in forgiveness. So we have to get specific. What does racism look like here in our nation today and what does that look like here today? And here if we look at these real estate policies, if we look at the ways in which home ownership has functioned, not as an avenue into community but as an avenue into increasing isolation, segregation, I think we have a lot to reckon with. I think we have a lot of repentance to do.
Here's another qualification that probably should have come at the beginning of the podcast, but I'll bring it in now and it's fitting to bring it here at the end I guess as well. So much of what I've said today will be tense for some of you, possibly shocking for some of you, but for others it's not shocking at all. And the fact that it would come across a shocking to some of us as deeply offensive because this is your day-to-day lived experience. So some of us need to be roused from our slumber.
For some of us, we are all too tragically aware of the condition of our nation and we've known about it for a long time and it's got to be somewhat strange to finally watch people stirring to life on it, finally watch some people open their eyes and say, "Why have I never seen any of this?" Wittgenstein once said, the Austrian philosopher once said, “Lord, help us to see what is right in front of our face, sometimes it's the hardest to see.” And this is one of the most powerful and evil, heinous forces in the United States right now, and we need to be aware of it.
As Christians, we definitely need to be aware of it so that we can challenge it, so that we can fight against it. And I think we also need to recognize though, that part of what makes this complex, and we'll talk more about this as we look at the biblical picture that makes sense of communal sin, is that we can't simply do the old fashioned, "Well, we got to find the one bad guy and deal with that bad guy and root them out." I've already quoted Solzhenitsyn on the last series of, quoted him repeatedly, actually on Vital Signs. But when he talks about if only it were so simple, if only we could just find all the evil people, isolate them, destroy them, and then we would be free. But no, evil cuts through every human heart and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
And we need to recognize, all of us, that our hearts are fundamentally flawed and compromised and need to be healed by none other than the divine physician. And that alone will save us. And that alone will allow us to move forward here, to move toward reconciliation and forgiveness and to do the hard work of dealing with what is in front of us here, what's been going on for so long. So thank you very much for sticking with me here. And by the way, again, I've just scratched the surface, there is so much more that could be said on the subject.
And the reason I went to such great lengths here is because I have heard that sound bite so often that well, we hear a lot about the systemic aspects of racism and yet I don't really see any serious concrete evidence for them. There is so much concrete evidence for it and it's expressed in all sorts, in all the different state of our society. I've looked at one specific aspect, much more could be said. So thank you for hanging with me. I'm aware that this was a challenging episode.
This series is really not going to get much easier, so my apologies in advance. But I do think that it will be helpful. And please know that once again, I think I have to say this more and more, I am not speaking to you as though I am some sage on a mountain top. I am speaking to you as a fellow pilgrim, and on this particular subject I am speaking as somebody who has everything to learn here. So thank you so much for listening in. You've been listening to Vital Signs, a podcast exploring signs of life in today's culture. My name is Cameron McAllister and I'm a speaker and a writer here at RZIM.
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