Around 20 years ago, I was part of a church that was attended for a time by a national leader of one of the most visible anti-abortion organizations in America. This individual wrote a paper that he circulated among church membership in which he suggested that the American church had blood on its hands where abortion was concerned. His paper grew out of his frustration, I suspect, that there was not more widespread support for the tactics of social confrontation that his organization was known to advocate. His paper fleshed out an entire doctrine of bloodguilt, based largely on a few Old Testament stories regarding the theocratic nation of Israel's obligations to enforce certain requirements of temporal justice. His essential argument was that a Christian could be guilty of abortion, having never been involved in abortion, merely by not intervening to stop abortions occurring within said Christian's geography. How, in a society of laws, a Christian is supposed to "stop abortions" rather than merely speak the truth and try to persuade, this person didn't say. He left it to the imagination of the reader.
I take strong objection to abortion. But I also took strong objection to the paper on the doctrine of bloodguilt. At the time of those events, I was enrolled as a graduate student in theology at a major evangelical seminary. (Events subsequently conspired to keep me from completing my studies there.) As a semester project in one of my theology classes, I wrote a 40 page paper in response to the shoddy biblical argument for bloodguilt that was made by that national pro-life leader.
I object to the injustice and malevolence embedded in the belief that a human being should be held guilty and accountable for something he has never done. I object to the anti-Christian cultivation of resentment. Like the God I worship, I hate the bearing of false witness, and the stirring up of discord among brothers that inevitably accompanies accusations of collective guilt. At the time that the paper I described was being circulated at my church, I objected to the sloppy reasoning, and to the unserious effort to understand the actual meaning of the biblical text.
For some time, I have been plagued by the vague sensation that I need to pull out my old paper, dust it off, and reengage on the question of blood-guiltiness. Over the last few days, that feeling has surged all the way to DEFCON 1.
I have known for a while that there is a growing gaggle of evangelical big-shots who have been inching ever closer to those ideas propounded 20 years ago regarding abortion. People I have largely respected and enjoyed in the past, like Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, Beau Hughes, David Platt and others, have begun promoting those familiar old tropes asserting vicarious moral guilt. Only this time, instead of addressing the question of culpability for abortion, the bloodguilt enthusiasts are applying it to the question of race. And, lo and behold, bad ideas resurrected still carry the same old stench of injustice they always did.
I've seen this movie before.
Just this past week, the increasingly execrable David French published a clarifying commentary in which he takes the mask off and goes all in for bloodguilt on matters of race. You can read his piece here:
If you are a Christian, you are probably going to have to come to grips with what you believe about collective guilt and vicarious moral culpability. These evangelical leaders are constructing a theological argument, piece by piece, which, taken at face value, requires an entire reconsideration of the basis for our redemption, the nature of forgiveness, and deconstructs long understood principles of justice and moral responsibility.
Michael Anton, who is not a theologian (I'm not one either), but who is exceedingly observant and smart, isn't blind to the implications of the arguments being made by the David French's of the world. Anton's tart response is here:
This observation by Anton is particularly apropos:
I leave to theologians to justify the principle of visiting the sins of the fathers unto the sons. I will, however, note that in the Biblical passage French cites (and others), it is very explicitly GOD either doing or commanding the visiting. This is, however, not a practice the Almighty requires or even recommends that men take up on the basis of their own judgment.
It is, of course, French, Keller, et al who have taken it upon themselves to declare the inherited guilt of all white Americans. In so declaring, they adopt the pose of someone who is speaking for God. Not on the basis of the kind of God-ordained commission routinely given to the actual prophets found in the bible but, rather, according to alleged insights to be obtained from...sociologists.
One would think that if French et al are determined to stand alongside the accuser of the brethren, with their collective fingers pointed, they would want their accusations to have a more firm foundation than the one offered by the pseudoscience of sociology. Of all things.
The concept of bloodguilt, an idea relegated to the fringes of evangelicalism 20 years ago, is increasingly mainstream among the hip evangelical elite. It wanders the land again, zombie-like, surprisingly resistant to being killed..