Following an apology for comments he made on social media about a campus diversity event, Moody professor Bryan Litfin wrote a Letter to the Editor of the student-run Moody Standard asking that in Christian dialogue we rescind use of the term “white privilege.” The president of Moody had already distanced himself from such views and reaffirmed MBI’s commitment to diversity and racial justice. Christianity Today even ran a story about the whole ordeal and Litfin’s letter yesterday.
My own reaction to Litfin’s letter as an evangelical Christian committed to Biblical multi-ethnicity and racial justice went through several stages…
Anger and Hurt
HOW DARE HE?! Who does this guy think he is?! How can someone get away with such thinly veiled racism in this day and age at a flagship evangelical institution?! As a person of color who displaces myself working in white-dominant evangelicalism in a very white-dominant state, I take his denial of white privilege (or request that we employ some sort of euphemism) as a personal affront. Every effort I’ve put into minority inclusion and empowerment is invalidated by his claim; this is hard not to take personally and angrily. Furthermore, his view actually represents evangelicals in the public sphere! Way to make us look like racist bigot idiots! ARGH!
Why should I even care? This really won’t affect me much and it’ll all go away in a few weeks, anyway. Time to get back to planning my students’ last large group meeting, senior send-off celebration, and a baptism this weekend for believer who came to faith in AAIV. So many better things to be doing with my time. Why should I even bother…
This guy is such an idiot it’s not even worth my time. He’s just some privileged white guy born into the halls of power of evangelicalism, yet he has no real influence and is in denial of his own privilege. The fallacies in his letter are so obvious it’s not even possible to talk sense with him. I can’t believe he’s in legitimate Christian academia, or maybe Moody is just a lazy, ignorant institution. I work with undergraduates for an evangelical campus ministry and the vast majority of students I’ve worked with would never say anything so ignorant and most have a far higher emotional intelligence. Google tells me he studied the Early Church Fathers and that he writes fantasy novels; his knowledge of how to interact with the world today is about as up-to-date and as realistic…
In this day and age, I want his head! What’s a good hashtag? #firelitf… ? I’ll encourage my Moody alum friends to start an online petition! This kind of ignorance has no place in Christian academia and his penalty to pay should be his career! I’m going to tweet and contact prominent evangelicals to try to reprimand and punish him!
His letter contains so many fallacious arguments it wouldn’t even take that long for me to list them all out and dismantle them one by one. I have never seen such lazy biblical theology or out-of-context proof-texting against corporate sin. His request that we “draw our terminology from the Bible” instead of using words coined by “worldly unbelievers” is the most ridiculous regulative principle I’ve ever seen. If we can’t use any extra-biblical terminology in Christian discourse, are discussions on democracy, child abuse, social science, and psychology all out of bounds? Clearly the Bible never refers to them…
It would be so easy to write a point-by-point refutation of any point Litfin tried to make and tear down all of his attempts at saying something coherent… Then again maybe it’d be more effective and satisfying to go ad hominem and just publicly shame him…
The more I think about it, Bryan Litfin probably feels confused and backed into a corner. He apologized for his online behavior but he can’t figure out what’s wrong with his views though he senses something is wrong. His response was to go after the terminology that set him off but he hasn’t resolved his cognitive dissonance and isn’t sure whether it’s the concept or the term that he truly disagrees with.
Dr. Litfin, if you ever read this, I genuinely empathize with your predicament and I would love to sit down and talk. I’d be happy to meet somewhere close to Moody’s campus or in the west suburbs. Feel free to tweet me @calvindeecee
I’m not convinced you’ve ever sat down with a racial minority American you respected who has experienced racism, asked them about their experience, heard them and empathized. I don’t accept all the presuppositions and conclusions of critical theory, but I’m not convinced you’ve ever seriously dialogued with it intellectually; something absolutely required in today’s academe.
Finally, I’m not convinced you’ve dealt with your own privilege and the color of your skin. Do you realize that you belong to the racial majority in this country and have you dealt with that? In your letter you attack the term “white privilege” and see its use as a personal attack while you also struggle with the concept. You don’t seem to advocate for euphemism; I’m not sure you’ve ever had the concept explained to you in a way that you were able to hear. Generally, those who use the term are not seeking to scorn, shame, criticize, or stigmatize; it is descriptive. Nor are we declaring that every white person is culpable and guilty for the sins of a few slave owners and traffickers. Nor are we ignoring other forms of privilege; of course a person of color raised in a socio-economically privileged, safe, nurturing environment experiences far less oppression than a white child sex slave. I don’t bring this up in hyperbolic sarcasm; this is the example you used.
I’ll actually use your example of the hypothetical 12 year old white female child sex slave. You argue she has no privilege. I cautiously agree with you. Difficult as this is to say, though, she could benefit from white privilege. Let’s say she is freed and enters the foster care system. She is significantly more likely to be adopted than a black girl from exactly the same circumstances due to racial preferences that exist in this country. That’s white privilege. Let’s say she is adopted by a middle-class family from the suburbs. You just assumed this family is white and so did most other readers of that sentence. That’s white privilege. It wouldn’t be an ignorant assumption; 73% of adoptive families in America are white, and that’s not a bad thing! These are (mostly) great, loving, white families! Now let’s say that same girl successfully re-enters middle school at grade level. In most swaths of middle-class America, she will never feel like an outsider because of the color of her skin nor will she wonder if people are treating her in discriminatory ways because of it. She will never doubt her ability to succeed or integrate socially because of her race. Now let’s say she makes it to college. Even after controlling for test scores, family income, and educational background, she is more likely to graduate than her peers of other races because she and her peers will not attribute inability to succeed to the color of her skin. Neither will she ever feel like an outsider at the vast majority of universities in this country for racial reasons. Social scientists and education scholars call this “stereotype threat” and it is a real, quantifiable phenomenon. Freedom from “stereotype threat” is part of white privilege.
I respectfully disagree with you that God merely “celebrates” privileges. As a beneficiary of many forms of privilege myself — aside from racial privilege — I believe that God calls us to steward privilege and use it for his purposes. And although “white privilege” seems marginal compared with socio-economic and educational privilege or being raised in a safe and loving home, it is nonetheless a form of power that can be stewarded and used on behalf of God’s kingdom.
I’m not trying to change your mind just by writing this. However, I am hoping you will hear my invitation to talk and my genuine empathy toward your feeling attacked by the MBI and minority communities. I truly desire to help you grapple with the concept of white privilege and perhaps even deal with and come to terms, positively, with your own white identity. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you and you actually do understand and have dealt with the fact that those who are racialized as “white” in this country, including yourself, can benefit from structural privilege. I’m happy to talk, but if you don’t accept my invitation, I recommend you read Being White by Doug Schaupp, a fantastic resource. I am praying for you and for MBI.