Will Changing the Rules of Grammar Eliminate Racism?

Will Changing the Rules of Grammar Eliminate Racism?

The University of Washington made news headlines with their Tacoma Writing Center’s “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center.”  Headlines declared, “College Writing Center Declares American Grammar A ‘Racist,’ ‘Unjust Language Structure’,”  “College teaches American grammar is ‘racist’,” and “College writing center: Proper grammar perpetuates ‘racist,’ ‘unjust language structure.”

In part, the reaction is against quotes from the UW statement like the following;

The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.

and

Furthermore, by acknowledging and critiquing the systemic racism that forms parts of UWT and the languages and literacies expected in it, students and writing center consultants can cultivate a more socially just future for everyone. Just avoiding racism is not enough because it means we are doing nothing to stop racism at large, and it amounts to allowing racism to continue.

Some of the key commitments are outlined in their paper,

  • emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical “correctness” in the production of texts
  • provide students ways to be more aware of grammar as a rhetorical set of choices with various consequences;
  • challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations;

The UWT statement concludes,

We also realize that racism is connected to other forms of social injustice, such as classism, sexism, heteronormative assumptions, etc., in similar ways. We promise further to do our best to compassionately address these issues as they pertain to student writing as well.

The director of the UWT writing center, Dr. Asao Inoue, and John Burkhardt have defended the writing center statement as important for changing the systemic structures of racism that now define the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, all of academia, and Western society as a whole.

The Center works to raise awareness that language is part of a larger system than can unintentionally perpetuate racial and social inequities. The term “racism” in this context is not about people behaving badly; it is about helping students understand language as part of a larger cultural system.

These concepts add to what students are learning about English and writing and help them understand they have choices in how they use language. They provide students with tools for how language can be applied effectively in different contexts.

Critics at The Daily Caller have observed, “The Tacoma Writing Center’s prioritization of social justice over grammar resembles previous concerted efforts to legitimize incorrect speech, such as Ebonics, “inventive spelling,” and “whole language.”” This connection to previous movements is important as it reminds us that this statement from UW was not made in a vacuum. Recently, a portrait of William Shakespeare was removed by students from the University of Pennsylvania and replaced by with a portrait of Audre Lorde who describes herself as a “Black feminist, lesbian, poet, mother, [and] warrior.” UPenn English Chair Jed Esty has since written an email to English majors stating, “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols.”

Will changing the rules of grammar eliminate racism? No, and to be fair, I don’t think that is precisely what is being argued by UWT. That may be an implied point, but not what they are trying to say. What they are arguing is much deeper. These statements above taken together reflect a larger movement in academia that has long embraced linguistic deconstruction through a postmodernist lens. For those unfamiliar, Ravi Zacharias has described postmodernism as a movement against truth, meaning, and certainty that rejects the idea of a meta-narrative (e.g. a Christian worldview) based on an epistemology that holds to the limitless instability of words. Zaharias’ last words are key to understanding what is happening at UW, UPenn and all across Western academia.

First, it is a movement to deconstruct language and erode any reasonable foundation for coherence in the traditions of Western civilization (e.g. democracy rule of law, marriage, economics, etc…). The ‘limitless instability of language’ is a primal truth in the postmodern language convention which seeks to redefine language based on cultural context, rhetorical situations, and situational choice. In the case of UW, the goal is quite simple. if one wants to eliminate systemic racism, one must redefine the very meaning of words and the structures of grammar so that any foundation for truth, meaning, and certainly within the American context can be eliminated and replaced with a new egalitarian system.

Second, it is a post-structuralist movement that, lacking any meta-narrative, concludes characteristics like individual identity and moral values have no intrinsic value. Values are not objective and absolute but instead determined by relativistic conditions within a culture. The reason racism exists, so the argument goes, is because the structures, institutions, and language of society have fostered it.

The problem with the UW statement goes far deeper than a rejection of objective rules of grammar. The ad-hoc post-modern worldview that undergirds this statement is ultimately a rejection of any inherent meaning in words which in turn leads to a wholly transient morality and ties human dignity to the whims of society. The Christian meta-narrative of the human sin nature, the need for redemption, and the hope of restoration through the salvation of Jesus Christ is seen as one more system to be deconstructed before any real progress can be made.

These are just a few of my initial observations, but certainly incomplete. So let me ask:

  • What problems do you see?
  • What ideas do you have for engaging the minds of those who accept these ideas?
No Black! No White! Just the Golden Dream!

No Black! No White! Just the Golden Dream!

Over the past decade, America has seen racial divisions rise. While the blame can be laid at the feet of many people, I would rather try and refocus on our common purpose of racial equality. There is no easy answer. There is no one solution.Archibald H. Grimke in his 1891 biography on the radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gives me hope that we are not so far gone that we cannot recapture the vision for radical equality in Jesus Christ.

Garrison’s Abolitionism was of the most radical character. It went the whole length of the humanity of the colored race, and all that that implied. They were, the meanest members, whether bond or free, his brothers and his sisters. From the first he regarded them as bone of his bone and blood of his blood, as children with him of a common father. Poor and enslaved and despised to be sure, wronged by all men, and contemned by all men, but for that very reason they were deserving of his most devoted love and labor. He never looked down upon them as wanting in any essential respect the manhood which was his. They were men and as such entitled to immediate emancipation. They were besides entitled to equality of civil and political rights in the republic, entitled to equality and fraternity in the church, equality and fraternity at the North, equality and fraternity always and everywhere. This is what he preached, this is what he practiced. In not a single particular was he ever found separating himself from his brother in black, saying to him “thus far but no farther.” He never drew the line in public or private between him and the people whose cause was his cause — not even socially. He went into their homes and was in all things one with them. He forgot that he was white, forgot that they were black, forgot the pride of race, forgot the stigma of race too in the tie of human kinship which bound him to them. If he had what they did not possess, the rights of a man, the civil and political position of a man in the State, the equality of a brother in the church, it could not make him feel better than they, it filled him instead with a righteous sense of wrong, a passionate sympathy, a supreme desire and determination to make his own rights the measure of theirs.

“I lose sight of your present situation,” he said in his address before Free People of Color, “and look at it only in futurity. I imagine myself surrounded by educated men of color, the Websters, and Clays, and Hamiltons, and Dwights, and Edwardses of the day. I listen to their voice as judges and representatives, and rulers of the people — the whole people.” This glowing vision was not the handiwork of a rhetorician writing with an eye to its effect upon his hearers. The ardent hope of the reformer was rather the father of the golden dream.

Archibald H. Grimke, William Lloyd Garrison the Abolitionist (Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library, n.d.), 157–158.

Walking With The Risen Jesus – Week 4

Walking With The Risen Jesus – Week 4

Meditation

“Ancient-Future Faith” Robert Webber

This is why the church as a fellowship in faith emphasizes the divine presence taking form in a new fabric of human relationships—a fellowship of people. This fellowship shares a corporate life. For example, Luke describes the early Christians as being of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They even sold their possessions and lived in common, although, as the rebellion of Ananais and Sapphira illustrates, this original common community was difficult to administrate. Living together was not easy, and the principles of being the church together had to be learned as each member of the community submitted to the rule of Christ. But faith in the end was to overcome the boundaries that separated people, transcending racial, economic, and sexual differences. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). The character of the “fellowship in faith” is to be far different from the character of other communities.

The difference is rooted in a common slavery to Jesus Christ. The image of a slave, so often overlooked, is an image that Paul often used of himself in relation to other believers, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). A slavery to God immediately transforms relations on the horizontal level. No longer can one person “lord it” over another. All God’s people are equal before God and each other. For this reason the church is called the “family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We all serve in God’s house under God’s authority. Thus, the church is a fellowship in faith, a corporate existence under God, a mutual slavery to each other.

The church as the realized experience of the “fellowship of faith” will break down our extreme individualism. Modern individualism is something different from a personal relationship with God in Christ. It is a form of Christianity that fails to understand the integral relationship that exists between the members of Christ’s body. We need to reflect on the teaching of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 110), who wrote to the Ephesian church: “your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ.” When the “fellowship in faith” is actualized, the church as a true fellowship makes Christianity real to the individual, as Ignatius indicated when he described the church “as a choir able to sing in unison and [with] one voice.” The mandate to break through the faÁade of individualism and create dynamic Christian relationships is demonstrated in this new fabric of human relations.

Consequently, the challenge of the church in the postmodern world is to recover community within the local church and the community of the entire church throughout history. We must learn that we are members of the whole church, the living and the dead, who constitute the fellowship in faith. Our calling is to deconstruct our sectarianism and to enter into dialogue with the whole church with the intent of recovering our relationship to the whole family of God—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. The more we experience the “fellowship in faith,” the more deeply we will experience the church as the body of Christ, a body that will attract and hold the postmodern seeker.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith : Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 79-81.

Scripture

  • Acts 4:32-37
  • Galatians 3:26-29
  • 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
  • 1 Peter 4:16-17

Challenge

We, as followers f Jesus, are called to live in community and for community (church).  If you really took this challenge seriously, how would it change the way you practice your faith on a daily and weekly basis?  What do you need to give up?  What do you need to embrace?

  1. Week 1 Devotional
  2. Week 2 Devotional
  3. Week 3 Devotional
  4. Week 4 Devotional
  5. Week 5 Devotional
[BOOK REVIEW & INTERVIEW] Mission Possible

[BOOK REVIEW & INTERVIEW] Mission Possible

5_Star

Review

A short while back, Dr. Terry Dorsett asked if I would do a review of his book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation Through the Small Church.  I am always honored when folks ask me to review their work; and, in this case, I am also very pleased to give my strongest recommendation of 5 Stars.

Why is this book important?

The church in the West is in decline.  Some churches are refusing to change while others are willing, but fear that change means a necessary compromise of their core beliefs—it doesn’t.  If your church is ready, then Mission Possible is an essential primer to guide you through the first steps along the path toward missional ministry.

The first five chapters of the book outline the basics for Attractional Evangelism:

  1. Making your church the social center of the community.
  2. Regaining the church’s place as the ceremonial center of the community.
  3. Using the church’s facilites as an outreach tool into the community.

The last six chapters outline the far more difficult challenge of making the Philosophical changes necessary so your church can reach the coming postmodern generation through Missional Evangelism.  One of the biggest hurdles is what the books calls Tradition Idolatry: “the tendency to assume that following one’s religious traditions is the same thing as following God (37).”

I have seen close friends hit this hurdle in their churches and the ensuing conflict eventually degenerated into a battle for power beween those who refuse to let go of tradition and those who hope for a better future in reaching the lost with the Gospel.

With these friends in the back of my mind, I asked Terry a few pointed questions about the lessons he has learned since the release of his book.

Interview

[Joe Miller] In my experience, more established churches have an entrenched resistance to shifting away from their traditional approaches toward a missional philosophy. What are 1 or 2 key strategies you would suggest for leaders who are trying to make this transition but encounter a lot of push-back from people within their church?

[Terry Dorsett] First, do not try to make all the changes at once. I have seen many good men who had a heart for reaching the next generation try to push the church too fast. Make one small change at a time. Look at this as a five year process instead of a five month process. Think of some small changes that are not likely to cause too much controversy and try them first. Once they are successful, then try another slightly bigger one. Never make big changes until several of the little ones have been proven to be helpful, or at least not harmful. Accept the reality that some churches can only handle so much change. If you can get a church that mainly reaches 70 year olds to become more attractive to 50 years olds, that is progress, and in some churches, that is all the progress that will ever be made. Learn to accept that and rejoice in the success God gives. Perhaps the next pastor will be able to move the church down another decade, and so on.

Second, let other people read the book. Far too often a pastor or youth pastor goes to a conference and gets all excited about what they learn. They come back home and are disappointed when the congregation does not share their excitement. The congregation does not share in the excitement because they do not know what they are supposed to be excited about. Instead of declaring some big change two weeks after reaching the book, buy a box of books and pass them out to all the deacons, Sunday School teachers and other key leaders. Ask them to read the book and come to a meeting with ONE good idea from the book they think should be considered. Listen to the list of good ideas that these leaders offer and resist the temptation to only follow the ideas that you like. If we let others try out their ideas first, they will be more likely to let us try ours out later. In short, share the concepts, get people talking, and then be patient.

 

[Joe Miller] Your book has been out for a while now and, like every writer, I am sure you have some thoughts that didn’t make it into print. Can you share with my readers 1 or 2 of the most significant post-publication insights that you wish were in the book?

 

[Terry Dorsett] First, because I serve in a small town, I wrote the book focused mainly on small towns and rural churches. I think the book clearly applies to those settings. But as I have interacted with others about the book, it has become obvious that these same issues are facing small churches in EVERY context, not just small towns and rural areas. I wish I had spent one more month researching how small churches in the inner city and suburbia are being impacted and included a chapter or two about that.

Second, though I talk a lot about using technology in a worship service or for follow up after a Bible study (both more “corporate” in nature), I regret not having a section on how to use technology to share our faith personally. I do share some stories about how I counsel young adults through social media, but most lay people are not going to feel comfortable doing that. They may however feel comfortable sharing their faith in a non-counseling situation through social media. I regret not having a chapter to share how to do that. I am considering a short e-book that might cover that topic.

[Joe Miller] Thanks Terry for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope folks will pick up a copy of your book and begin working through it with the people in their churches.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terry is a writer, a church planter, a pastor, and a mentor to many young people seeking God’s will for their lives. Having been raised in the mid-west, he understands America’s heartland values. Having served for nearly twenty years in ministry in post-modern Vermont, he understands the issues the next generation is facing. As a father, he has helps guide his own three children to adulthood and rejoices as he sees them walking in the truth. Connect with Terry on his website.

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