In my small circle of young, reformed Baptist friends, I am known for my appreciation for Doug Wilson. I’ve gone on record to say that I think he’s the most gifted living writer, and I stand by it; I have learned more about wordsmithing from Doug than I probably even know. My appreciation for Doug has even shown up on this little ‘ol blog. Given how controversial he is, I often have to preface every word of admiration for Doug with, “Don’t get me wrong, I do find myself regularly exacerbated by him, and I would never look to his ministry as a model for the pastor-theologian.” Most of the time, this little disclaimer comes in the abstract, but thankfully (sort of), Doug has given me a prime opportunity to distance myself from him on at least one issue; he’s given me a “for instance.” I’ve decided to respond to his atrocious comments about the SBC-confederate flag issue, not necessarily to begin a dialogue with Doug himself (I’m nearly certain he’ll never even read this), but for the sake of my friends who have heard me wax eloquence in admiration for Doug’s courage and precision: I think it would be beneficial for them to hear me say, “This, was not courageous, or precise, or wise, or helpful.”
In doing so, I think it would be good, as a Southern Baptist, to grant Doug a level of Christian charity that he has neglected to give us. First, let me say that Doug Wilson is not a racist, insofar as a racist is a self-conscious believer that one race is superior to another (I do think that racism is part of sinful humanity, and as long as we have indwelling sin, racism will be there to an extent—which is why the gospel that brings all kinds of races together, to point out mutual blind spots, is so heavenly—but this is not what I’m talking about). Second, Doug Wilson is not a mindless mud-slinger. I think he probably comes across stronger than he means to at times, but for the most part, he is calculated in who he offends and how he offends them. Third, Doug Wilson is bringing a well-thought-out argument to the table; it’s draped in layer after layer of rhetorical bite (which is not so loving to the reader, I might add), but it’s there. These clarifying statements he offered recently are helpful to see where he’s coming from:
Coming back to the flag, we are not talking about sin, but rather about something that (in the minds of some) is symbolic of sin. And that creates a host of questions. Symbolic to whom? Why? How did it come to mean that? Who is in charge of the symbolism, and are they going to do something else with another symbol as soon as we cede authority to them in this case? And so on.
Doug is incredibly sensitive to the cultural moment that we find ourselves in, and the influence of a godless agenda that beats the drum of said cultural moment. I think I remember hearing him say something to the effect of, “I determined early on that I was going to say whatever the social-police wanted me not to say.” According to Doug, there is a very calculated attempt on the part of secular God-haters to neuter the people of God by forcing them into a corner with one word, phrase, symbol, greeting at a time. And for what it’s worth, I think he’s right about this agenda (I think The Free Speech Apocalypse is a stroke of genius). I also think he’s right that Southern Baptists (or, more accurately, Evangelicals in general) are typically three—or four, or four thousand—moves behind in this game.
Additionally, insofar as we take down the Confederate flag because it is intrinsically a symbol of sinful bloodshed, oppression, and overall depravity, I agree with Doug that we would only be consistent if we also take down the American flag for the same reasons. But here’s the rub: that’s not why we decided to take down the Confederate flag.
This postmillennialist, bless his heart, cannot seem to think outside the categories of dominion-taking culture wars. To him, this is the Southern Baptists’ act of raising their white flags in response the clamors of this world’s apostles. But we don’t have a white flag, man! And we could care less about the clamors of this world’s apostles; what we want is the attention of this world’s refugees—which is firmly fixed in any direction other than toward the Church who waves the Confederate flag (oddly enough, I received these categories of “apostles of the world” vs. “refugees of the world” from Doug himself). Doug would scold us for giving the social-police an inch, since now they’re going to come back for a mile. But we haven’t given them a centimeter. Listen to the speech by James Merritt, you won’t find one hint of cultural surrender; instead, you’ll find the kind of evangelistic zeal that has always characterized Southern Baptists. The call to take down the flag is not about what the flag intrinsically is (which is where I would diverge from Russel Moore’s statements, “the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.” I would content this is overly simplistic and implies too much about an intrinsic relationship between symbols and meaning), the call to take down the flag is about what the flag is, “used by some and perceived by many” as; namely, “as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people.”
There’s more precision in the resolution than Doug gives us credit for. There’s also less (like, none) tale-tucking in the resolution than Doug accuses us of. The point is not to apologize for those sins of our fathers while ignoring these sins of ours. The point is not to bend the knee to a godless social order that decides what’s appropriate and what’s not—what’s acceptable and what’s blasphemous. The point is to remove every unnecessary stumbling block for the sake of the gospel.
Whether they are right to feel this way or not, Doug, many African-American’s perceive (honestly and genuinely, not deceitfully or manipulatively) the flag as a symbol that they are unwelcomed. The gospel won’t even make it to their earshot if one insists that these men and women need to be “corrected” about the relationships between symbol and meaning—perception and reality—in such a volatile state. Let the social-police demand that we do this or that, for this or that reason, that’s all white noise to us—we’re rather transfixed on our black brothers and sisters who say, “Thank you” for giving their community a reason to hear out the Southern Baptists. As Merritt said, “All the confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”