Thabiti Anyabwile|7:20 am CT

Why Respond Publicly to Douglas Wilson’s “Black and Tan”?

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog. After nearly two weeks in Israel and a few days at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church for their annual missions conference, I’m finally coming out of a brief internet hiatus.

I wish I were returning to the blogosphere under different circumstances. But last week I got myself involved in one of the periodic internet spats that happens among God’s people. Someone on twitter asked me what I thought about Bryan Lorrits’ lament over Douglas Wilson’s book Black and Tan, and I responded honestly. Here’s the exchange:



In return, Doug Wilson responded to Bryan Loritts, Anthony Bradley, Eric Mason and myself with this post. So, my 280-character tweet with three retweets has triggered another round of comments regarding Wilson’s Black and Tan.

Now, it’s almost a matter of evangelical orthodoxy that disagreements ought to be handled privately and that critics should contact the folks they’re critiquing before they say anything publicly. No doubt some reader has already thought that perhaps Loritts’ and my tweets should have never occurred without the prerequisite private confab. Since that sentiment seems popular in internet evangelical circles, let me briefly explain why I think it’s wrong and why I’m writing publicly in this and 3-4 subsequent posts, Lord willing.

1. I’m writing publicly because Wilson’s book is in the public domain, in fact, freely offered to anyone who wishes to download it. Were these privately held opinions, perhaps expressed in conversation with a friend or a few acquaintances at a dinner party, they would not be (or at least should not be) subject matter in public dialogue. But there’s a rather simple rule in academic and publishing circles that I’m sure everyone involved in this understands: If you publish something as a matter of public record, it then becomes “fair game” to critique it in public. Public opinions are subject to public responses. I’m simply keeping with that widely accepted practice.

2. As far as I know, Wilson has not retracted his book or anything in his book Black and Tan. The book itself is a clarification and further defense of an earlier publication, Southern Slavery: As It Was, which due to some oversights in proper citation and some problematic data was pulled from circulation. So, what we have is a publicly-stated position defended and maintained, making it an ongoing issue.

3. I’m writing publicly to counter, as best I can, what might be called the “rotten egg” effect in these matters. You probably became familiar with this effect as a child. Ever say something like, “The last one to the car is a rotten egg”? We have an internet version of this. “The last one to comment publicly is a rotten egg.” That is, I understand that some people view the first opinion as “unfortunate” at worst but hold anyone who replies guilty of a more foul offense (rotten egg). But this inverts the Bible’s teaching, which says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov.18:17). By silencing the cross-examination, we leave ourselves with only the first-stated case, which is not always the correct position. So, like some others, I’m writing publicly because it seems to me some harmful positions need addressing charitably and clearly, with God’s help.

4. I’m writing publicly because I have a pastoral concern for anyone that may read the book and treat it either as sound in reasoning or an acceptable model for dealing with controversial subjects and the fallout they inspire. In my opinion, the book and resultant exchanges represent neither. I’m as liable as anyone to put my foot in my mouth–and I have on numerous occasions. But I hope these posts offer a better way of thinking about some of the issues and a better tone while doing so.

5. Finally, I’m writing because I need to account for my public statements–including tweets, which I know to be a medium far too simplistic for issues this volatile. Mr. Wilson isn’t the only one needing to give an account. I do, too. And I have often found the democratic medium of blogs to have a helpful effect to that end–it’s other problems notwithstanding.

So, Lord willing, this week I’ll offer (1) a summary of Wilson’s Black and Tan as I understand it; (2) a critique of the argument and methodology; (3) an attempt to explain why Wilson continues to be liable to the charge of “racial insensitivity” (at least); and, (4) a short reply to Mr. Wilson’s offer of a meeting. I’m not looking to be sensational or to engage in a rhetorical alley fight. I’m certain I’m not Mr. Wilson’s equal when it comes to rhetorical jabs and hooks, and I don’t think our “dukin’ it out” will actually advance any understanding or dialogue. I welcome you to the dialogue as well, and hope you’ll join me in trying to raise it in ways that edify.

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