On Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 ELO hosted NT Wright in a webinar and Q&A discussing “Racism, Christians & Leadership”. This was the 5th ELO Webinar in a series over the past few months. The webinar attracted registrants from around the globe, posing questions for the world-renowned biblical scholar. ELO Webinars over the past months have featured global thought leaders such as NT Wright (previously on the COVID-19 pandemic), John Lennox and international entrepreneurs such as Rob Wildeboer and Jeff Williams.
The conversation between Dr. Rick Goossen and Prof. Wright addressed how Christian leaders can reimagine and practice as Tom Wright says, our glorious vocation; to be in our personal and corporate lives small working models of the ultimate new creation which God has promised.
N.T. (“Tom”) Wright is generally regarded as one of the world’s leading biblical scholars. Prof. Wright recently joined Wycliffe Hall as a Senior Research Fellow. He is a world authority on the apostle Paul and the author of over 80 academic and lay-level books. He additionally conducts a number of online courses through his website: www.ntwrightonline.org. N.T. Wright will be an Adjunct Instructor in the Entrepreneurial Leaders Programme, offered by the Entrepreneurial Leaders Institute in collaboration with Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford from August 15th – 21st, 2021.
Included below are a few extracts from the Q&A, paraphrased and summarized for brevity. To access a recording of the webinar, and an extensive set of questions, CLICK HERE.
NOTE: For the exact context of NT Wright’s remarks and a word-for-word record of his comments, please refer to the webinar recording or podcast. The below summary is not to be quoted as the exact words of NT Wright. Thank you.
RG: Christians may think that if they do something on an individual basis or churches do something on a collective basis, that we are not leading but following. How can Christians and their churches lead authentically?
NT: The church should have been leading on this issue all along, the church should have been there in the middle of a muddled society as an example of how to get it right. To send a signal that we can form one family. As a result of the church not doing that, it has led to a very interesting story in terms of intellectual history. What happened with the enlightenment was that so many of the great European and American thinkers wanted the results of the Judeo-Christian heritage without the roots. They wanted to get wisdom, medicine, education, social services etc. all of which were all ancient Christian imperative building on ancient Jewish imperative, but they did not want the Christianity and Judaism part. They have gone ahead, and that is where multiculturalism comes from, in many ways, it is a Christian imperative shorn of its Christian roots. What we then should see is Christians receiving this as a wake-up call that we Christians should have been doing this all along. We should not say “if they have done this despite us, we are going to refuse”. It is a confusing situation but we need to get back to the original New Testament vision.
RG: The old testament talks about generational scars and sins (Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18). For Christians in North America, how can we reconcile a history of our family members and Christian brothers and sisters who owned slaves or helped grow racism for four hundred years. In other words, how should all of us, live in these societies where a lot of the grievances are against the history of systemic racism, and if you are living today as a Christian, what is the imperative to take ownership?
NT: This is very difficult. If you try and trackback to the murky roots of the present situation then we all have bits of our roots that we are ashamed of. This is where we need the wisdom of Miroslav Volf, articulated in his remarkable book 25 years ago, Exclusion & Embrace. On the one hand, you have the proper Christian imperative to have an amnesty, jubilee, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. On the other hand, you can’t do that by papering over the cracks, saying “oh well it’s alright, we’ve realized it was wrong and we’ve said sorry. Now let’s forget it all”. That is the classic sort of thing that old white guys would say into the present cultural situation and people receiving that would say “there they go again, they think they can get off the hook like that”. The trouble is if you go the other way you end up with a culture of recrimination that always looks back and does not aim at reconciliation. Hence for Volf, exclusion and embrace need to go together. The exclusion is the way of saying “that was wrong and we must sort it out and make proper apologies in the proper way” but in a way that aims at embrace.
The unfortunate outcome is well expressed in a controversy we’ve been having in this country about pulling down statues of people who were involved with slavery or other things in the distant or not so distant past. A friend of mine said, “the danger is that the people pulling down the statues today will be putting up guillotines tomorrow.” The revolutionary movements have had a bad track record of self-righteousness. It is a wonderful feeling to pull down a statue of a slave trader and throw it into the harbour. Then it can burn inside you, “we are now right about everything and therefore anyone who is now offending us for whatever reason we have now claimed the moral high ground and we will look down on them.” And that way danger lies, and it has always lied. Part of our difficulty at the moment is that we are such a post-modern society that we have forgotten how to argue coherently and rationally. Argument collapses into simply “I don’t like you and you don’t like me and we’re just going to yell at each other”. Exclusion and embrace have to go hand in hand. You can only have the embrace when you’ve done the exclusion, but you cannot do the exclusion wisely unless it is aiming at the embrace.