Race, Sex, and the Generation Gap

Challenges That Can't Be Avoided

I suppose there have always been generation gaps. I recall an incident that took place in a class with Dr. Morton Smith. In those days I was among the last of what used to be the "traditional" seminary student, men who graduated from college and went directly to seminary. You went to college for four years and graduated at 21. You went to seminary for three years and were ordained at 24. 

But there were also "older men." Some of them were students, who had careers in business, but now were called to the ministry and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program. One day, as we were walking back from chapel (in those days held at the old Westminster Church on Clinton Blvd.), one of the older students made a disapproving remark to another "oldster" about some of us who were not wearing socks. Having grown up in the beach town of Pensacola, FL, it never occurred to me that there was anything improper about going sockless. You wore blue or dirty white tennis shoes without socks to school or for more formal occasions weejuns without socks.

But back to Dr. Smith. The incident I am recalling involved some older local men who were not Reformed and not preparing for the ministry, but who wanted to take some seminary classes. Some subject came up (I have no idea what it was, though civil rights and the Vietnam War were hot issues of the day), and, after allowing the discussion to progress for awhile, Dr. Smith commented, "I think what we have here is a generation gap."

I expect that Adam, who lived to be 930 years old, had many occasions to comment to Eve, "What's going on with these kids of ours? We didn't bring them up like this. Where did they get these ideas? What's up with that cacophony they call music?" And, if Adam, how much more Methuselah , who had to contend with one more generation than Adam since he lived to be 969?

My interest today is with a generation gap that characterizes our society and has a big impact on the church. In America one of the advantages of being an Episcopalian is that you live in the backwaters of denominationalism where your concerns, if you are an evangelical of the Cranmer sort, are Anglo-catholicism and N.T. Wrightism. But since I am that rare American Episcopalian, the evangelical (which was also true of the founder of my denomination, Bishop Cummins), I have a concern for the evangelicalism that is often spelled with a big "E."

It is my belief that two of the great challenges that exist in contemporary Evangelicalism are race and sex, both revealing a huge generational gap. 

Surely the generation of which I am a part, and that is quickly passing from the scene (I have reached threescore and ten years), experienced some big changes regarding race and sex that sometimes created a gap between us and our parents' generation. Regarding race we may have grown up with segregation (my high school was "integrated" with two black girls and one black boy when I was in the 10th grade) but we became integrationists. We believed that no one, because of the color of his skin, ought to be denied any of the rights of an American citizen or an opportunity to get a job and move up the economic ladder. We bought Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of judging people not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. We believed that by integration, all of us could be assimilated to a common culture, which was predominantly western (though enriched and modified by various cultural influences including black influences) in nature because the West was the highest form of human civilization and culture that mankind has yet produced. It looked simple. As the Italians, the Irish, the Germans, et. al. had been assimilated into American culture, so, if given a fair and much too long delayed chance, would African Americans. 

Regarding women, we became egalitarians. Though World War II opened the door to women working outside the home, most of our mothers were stay at home moms (housewives, as they were called). However, many of our contemporaries got jobs and had careers and kids. 

Were women created by God to be subservient to all males in society? No. Margaret Thatcher was not an example of the "monstrous rule of women." She was an example of meritocracy. She succeeded politically because of her gifts, experience, skills, work, and accomplishments. Are there other women of Margaret Thatcher's abilities? Then, please God, raise them up and give them success - women of courage, today's Deborahs, women who know what they are committed to and who can lead political cultures into the way of truth, justice, and right. Such women can lead us, not into women's ways of truth, justice, and right, but into the ways of truth, justice  and right where sex makes no difference. The P.M.'s name may be Winston or Margaret, but he will not lead as a man nor she as a woman, but both as steely Prime Ministers.

However, today integration and egalitarianism are not enough. In fact both represent, not equality, but the dominance of those who are white and male over the oppressed members of society, such as blacks and women. 

This is the generation gap. Younger adults have absorbed the view that the structures of society give white people and men  privileges that put blacks and women at a disadvantage. Whites and males have created these structures and imposed them on blacks and women. Whites and  males make the rules that give them the advantage, and then they expect blacks and women to play by these rules that put and keep them behind. There are not just incidents of discrimination; there is structural racism. There are not just places where women are not fairly treated; society is structured to be sexist. 

Worst of all the oppressors are not even aware of this reality, so they must be confronted with their guilt, re-educated and sensitized, and they must change.
White people must see that insisting on standard English, teaching the Western canon in literature and philosophy classes is culturalism (which is what racism really is), and traditional SAT testing and scoring are examples of white prejudice and dominance. These are tools used to keep blacks down. 

White people must accept the massive collective guilt that is theirs because of slavery and Jim Crow laws and instinctive racism. They must apologize, and find out what black people want them to do about the past and present. White people must stop pointing out the examples of such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Ben Carson, Condoleezza Rice, Tim Scott, because these black people are not really black. They have been educated and socialized to the point that they operate as effectively whites. 

Men must stop encouraging one another and their sons to "act like a man" or "man up." Men must know that holding a door open for a woman may be perceived by her as a micro-aggression which at best is thoughtless and at worst is a put down that says, "You're not able to open the door yourself. You need a man." Men need to stop being their manly selves which leads to toxic masculinity, sexual aggressiveness, and spousal abuse. Men need to observe, listen to, learn from women, and change their concept of masculinity.

Older generations may not be aware of this change in the worldview of the younger. The younger generation are not concerned with merit and equality, for these are not sufficient. Their concern is social justice.  They want those who are white and male to acknowledge the privileges that white males have historically enjoyed and used to their own advantage to the detriment of people of color and women. If they are evangelicals, these concerns for racial, sexual, and economic justice are transformed into "gospel issues."

It is not enough that a black person can attain anything for which he or she is qualified and works. No, the standards are wrong. The standards are white, and they must be changed to deal fairly with the unique experience of blacks.

It is not enough that a women can attain anything from CEO of a large company, to Secretary of State, to President of the United States. No, the standards which are defined by males must be rethought, modified, and perhaps radically changed to take into account what women are, think, feel, and want. Do you need to be able to carry 150 pounds to be a fire person? Then the standard must be changed since most women cannot cannot 150 pounds. Do men approach life the way they do a department store - go in, shoot it, get out of there, and take it home? Perhaps they need to change. Do boys spit and scratch and sometimes pee outdoors? Maybe they need the Barney Fife treatment - "nip it in the bud." 

To bring all this into the world of the church, if you want examples evangelicals for whom race is the primary category of life, look at Jemar Tisby, Michelle Higgins, and her father Mike. If you want an example of an evangelical for whom sex is the primary category look at Valerie Hobbs, who describes her academic focus: "My primary research at present focuses on the discourse of conservative evangelical Christians, particularly the ways in which members of this community talk about gender roles. I am especially interested in corpus-based and corpus-assisted discourse studies and have built several of my own corpora." 

If you are a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America or a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention, listen and you will hear the the generation gap regarding race and sex.




  1. Do you deny categorically the existence of structural racism and sexism, or would you agree that these concepts have some validity, but have been blown completely out of proportion?

  2. There are prejudiced people, so that discrimination still exists. But I deny that the institutions of American society are so structured as to perpetuate racism and sexism.


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