African-American responses to Propaganda’s ‘Precious Puritans’

For no particular reason I have never been a fan of rap or hip-hop, but last week I was drawn into that genre. The fellow responsible for the drawing is an artist known as Propaganda, a self-described “fire baptized, battle rapper, who’s heavily influenced by boat music and bound creative freedom in poetry.” At least I think that’s what he says. The song by which I was drawn is called “Precious Puritans.”

The song, from Propaganda’s new project, Excellence, takes pastors to task for uncritically quoting the theology of many Puritan pastors. These would be the same Puritans who owned and abused slaves, while excusing it as the order of things. The lyrics to the song (below) are blistering, insightful, and revealing.

jonathan edwards

Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards [Image credit]

Chicago area pastor Joe Thorn brought the song into my field of view with two posts on his blog. The first is an interview with historian and author Dr. Richard Bailey, professor of early American history at Canisius College, and author of Race and Redemption in Puritan New England, (OUP, 2011).

The second is an interview with Propaganda, with a lengthy discussion about the song.

In short order a twitter exchange broke out with Owen Strachan taking the position the song went too far and would possibly cause avoidance of Puritans altogether. Like not enough fiber in ones diet, I suppose. Last week Strachan took to his blog with the same assertions. It was a weak attempt at a critique. If anything Strachan demonstrated with sterling clarity the very mindset challenged by Propaganda.

Next, influential blogger Steve McCoy weighed-in. McCoy is well known for his breadth of musical knowledge and affirmation of the arts. He correctly notes too many people have missed the point of “Precious Puritans.” I could not agree more. Today Steve asks, “Where are the voices of our white, Puritan-loving Southern Baptist leaders, and seminary presidents, and deans, and entity leaders, and prominent pastors? We need your voices on this.” It is a needed, important question.

I do not fit into any of those categories, but I do have a few thoughts.

One, mainly.

Where are the white believers who are seeking responses from African-Americans? Why, when issues of race propel themselves to the fore, do so many white folks think a white opinion is all that is needed? Worse, why do we so readily believe that we automatically provide a correct analysis on any racial issue?

Today, Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College in New York City and research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, tackled the issue on the Urban Faith blog. Addressing this crucial item he writes:

Propaganda’s point is that if white evangelicals do not talk about the bones of their heroes they run the risk of doing great harm to people of color. Many of us are beginning to wonder why white evangelicals do not seem to care much about this and seem willing to trade off “honoring” their forefathers for their own comfort over doing what is necessary to build racial solidarity. Some of my liberation theology friends, in the end, would see Strachan’s critique as a dismissal of acknowledging the importance of caring about how the Puritans are presented to African Americans and would constitute a racial microaggression or a micro-invalidation.

There is an ongoing disconnect between most white evangelicals and anything to do with minority culture, especially as it relates to African-American culture. We are so blind and insular that we do not even attempt bridging divides. This is not typically out of hate, but because we know of no such divide.

Were the slaves not freed? Was the Voting Rights Act not passed? Was the Civil Rights Act not passed? Do we not have a president who is African-American? Then, what is the fuss? Such is a typical white line of thinking.

Two of my African-American pastor friends took the time to respond with their thoughts on “Precious Puritans.” James Roberson III is the Missional Communities Pastor at Blueprint Church in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Dwight McKissic is the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX.

From James Roberson:

Here are some historical facts that aren’t talked about:
George Whitfield campaigned to have slaves at his orphanage.
Jonathan Edwards owned slaves as well.
The Southern Baptist Convention made negro inferiority a theological conviction amongst its convention.

Did these negative attributes define who these people were? Not in my opinion. But I wonder if the issue was abortion?

What if George Whitfield campaigned for the rights of women to have abortions.
Jonathan Edwards owned abortion clinics.
The Southern Baptist Bonvention made a woman’s right to choose a theological conviction amongst its convention.

I have heard abortion and slavery compared on more than one silly occasion so I figured I would use it here. I think abortion would make us think of these folks very differently. It shows how we value certain issues more than others.

I love what Propaganda said in his album and I’m surprised that he hasn’t received more flack than he has. Prop was right. I think the entirety of the poem speaks to the flaws of all leaders, which is a healthy reminder. But what I think we are unwilling to embrace is that white people are far too often tired of the slavery conversation and want to move on.

I understand that many white people feel like they shouldn’t have to discuss something they weren’t apart of. Yet what we should embrace is that humans were once used like a rake or luggage; nothing but tools. Black people were considered three-fifths of a human and made white people a fortune. A fortune that many whites have gained a considerable amount of privilege from. It would only be healthy to consistently take a look at how we actually thought God was ok with that. It would also be a benefit to our missiology within cities to understand how slavery and Jim Crow have effected the black population to day.

Sin is never easy to talk about. Yet my prayer is that we grow more comfortable with examining, confessing, and praying over the sins of our fathers. It will as James 5:16 promises, bring healing to our nation.

From Dwight McKissic:

(1) It is alright for the pastor to quote Puritans, because anyone quoted could probably be disqualified in someones eyes for various reasons, including Propaganda who is bothered by the pastor quoting Puritans. (2) I applaud and appreciate Propaganda for voicing his viewpoint. Whenever I quote someone that may be objectionable to a large segment of my audience (for whatever reasons), I usually make some kind of disclaimer or qualifying remark to make that person more palatable to my audience. Similar to the song I’ve said, “God sometimes hit straight licks with crooked sticks,” or “The Great Puritan, Jonathan Edwards was a slavemaster–we’ll forgive him for that without him asking. He preached a great sermon, “Sinners in the Hands….”. You get the point.

So, the preacher needs to qualify or “ask permission” to quote the slaveholder, and the rapper must accept the fact that one never receives ministry from a person totally without fault or sin. He alludes to this in his song.

And certainly, I recognize that slaveholding was a sin on par with abortion, murder, and even more egregious than same-sex marriage. But to the slave-holder, it was a blind spot. That is no excuse, but the reason we call it a blind spot is because–they were blind. Both parties need to seek to understand the other on this issue and meet somewhere in the middle.

Below are the lyrics to “Precious Puritans,” and the song itself from YouTube.

If you would allow me second to deal with some in-house issues here…

Pastor, you know it’s hard for me when you quote puritans.
Oh the precious puritans.
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment and heart break.
Like, not you too pastor.
You know they were the chaplains on slaves ships, right?
Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees?
Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs?
Even If they theology was good?
It just sings of your blind privilege wouldn’t you agree?
Your precious puritans.

They looked my onyx and bronze skinned forefathers in they face,
Their polytheistic, god-hating face.
Shackled, diseased, imprisoned face.
And taught a gospel that says God had multiple images in mind when he created us in it.
Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given which is to be owned by your forefathers’ superior image-bearing face.
Says your precious puritans.

And my anger towards this teaching screams of an immature doctrine and a misunderstanding of the gospel.
I should be content in this stage, right? Isn’t that Paul taught?
According to your precious puritans.

Oh, you get it but you don’t get it.
Oh, that we can go back to an America that once were, founded on Christian values.
They don’t build preachers like they used to. Oh, the richness of their revelations.
It must be nice to not have to consider race.
It must be nice to have time to contemplate the stars.
Pastor, Your colorless rhetoric is a cop-out.
You see my skin, and I see yours. And they are beautiful.
Fearfully and wonderfully divinely designed uniqueness.
Shouldn’t we celebrate that rather that act like it ain’t there?
I get it. Your puritans got it. But,

How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them in the valley of vision didn’t compel them to knock on they neighbors door and say, “You can’t own people!”?
Your precious puritans were not perfect.
You romanticize them as if they were inerrant. As if the skeletons in they closet was pardoned due to the they hard work and tobacco growth.
As if abolitionists weren’t racist and just pro-union.
As if God only spoke to white boys with epic beards.
You know Jesus didn’t really look like them paintings. That was just Michaelangelo’s boyfriend.
Your precious puritans.

They got it but they didn’t get it.
There’s not one generation of believers that figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action.
Don’t pedestal these people, your precious puritans partners purchased people.
Why would you quote them?
Step away.

Think of the congregation that quotes you. Are you inerrant?
Trust me I know the feeling.
It’s the same feeling I get when people quote me.
Like, if you only knew!
I get it. But I don’t get it.
Ask my wife.
And, it bothers me when you quote puritans, if I’m honest, for the same reason it bothers me when people quote me–they precious propaganda.
So, I guess it’s true.
God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines.
Just like your precious puritans.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • Rob Masters

    Kelly Anderson…you have traveled around the blog world repeating your “white privilege” argument but nowhere in Scripture do I see anything about this so called sin. I read about Adamic sin(total depravity) but nowhere about Caucasic (sic) sin.

    Marty Duren: Does his intended audience include all white , puritan loving persons like myself. Honestly that is what Joe Thorn and Steve McCoy, along with Kelly Anderson seem to be stating.

    Truthfully this Antinomianism at its finest and contrary to the Gospel of Grace!

    • Marty Duren

      His intended audience is anyone who uncritically puts people on pedestals. Whether than includes you or not I have no idea.

      This has nothing to do with Antinomianism and has everything to do with hero-worship.

      • Anastasios

        He never said White Privilege was a “sin” or a form of guilt, only a sociological reality.

      • Anastasios

        Whoops I meant to reply directly to Rob, not to you. I meant that you (Marty) never said white privilege was a sin, and Rob is overreacting against something he thinks you said but didn’t actually say.

  • Rob Masters

    Marty you said,” His intended audience is anyone who uncritically puts people on pedestals. Whether than includes you or not I have no idea.”
    If that is the intended audience and message then I would argue that Propaganda was using his art in a grace filled manner.
    However, thats not the message that I hear Steve McCoy or Joe Thorn state in their rebuking of Owen Strachen .
    Its not the message that I hear Thabiti state in this point, “Third, the defense of the Puritans does, it seems to me, draw upon a fair amount of privilege.”
    Thirdly if you read the comments of Kelly Anderson on Anthony Bradleys post on the Urban Faith website, they do not seem communicate what you are stating here in the intended audience and message.

    Lastly I think if you read the writings of the Puritans you would understand why they frequently argued against antinomian tendencies in the Church and World.

    Some modern examples. RCSproul argues in his book, Grace Unknown that Dipensationalism is “dubious” evangelism because its inherent antinonianism built into Dispensationalisms view of grace and law. This was not a new argument from RCSproul but rather view advanced by the Puritan Westminster Divines.

    What about the writing of the U.S Constitution and the frequent Biblical understanding of the relationship to law and grace in that document embedded largely by the Puritans.

    I will conclude with the example of the fairly recent dust up at the Gospel Coalition concerning Antinonianism between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian.
    It appears to me that many of Propagandas must vocal supporters need to heed the advice of Micheal Horton.

    In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.”
    Is not this the issue at the heart of the so called “white guilt” focus?

    • Marty Duren

      If you have issues with Joe and Steve then go to their blogs and take them up.

      I don’t care about a dust up between DeYoung and Tchividjian, and it has nothing to do with this post. I don’t care about advice from Michael Horton because it has nothing to do with this post. Antinomianism has nothing to do with this post. The only comment from Kelly Anderson germain to this discussion is the one he made here, not the one he made at Urban Faith.

    • Marty Duren

      Also, I find it fascinating you are more concerned with theological “dust ups” that the actual content of the song. You have no problem with slavery? You have no problem with people spending hours contemplating the stars just before beating their slaves? You have no problem with pastors ignoring the sins of the fathers so they can maintain their theological, tribal credentials?

  • Rob Masters

    Marty…Do you read your own blog? Kelly Anderson made essential the same argument here as he did in multiple blogs.
    Here is the relevant quote that I reject:”Outstanding paragraph. The issue is, regardless of modern day White Caucasians owned slaves or not is irrelevant, they benefit today unfairly from the societal ramifications from that as strong as ever in 2012. We see it in education, schools, employment, civic leaders, courts, etc. If one has apathy, I will boldly say they are actively perpetuating the damage started and festered for hundreds of years. ”

    There is nothing absolutely nothing Biblical about this comment.

    You said:”You have no problem with pastors ignoring the sins of the fathers so they can maintain their theological, tribal credentials?”

    I am unaware of any pastors that are doing this today.

    Do you have a problem with slavery today! I do not here you speaking out on one of the 400,000 Black men from West Papua killed without a peep from Marty Duren.

    • Marty Duren

      Sorry Rob,
      I was so distracted by your bringing in so much unrelated information I missed the one thing that was on point.

      What you dispute as being unbiblical is an issue of biblical justice. “White privilege” is not in the Bible; injustice is. What you apparently cannot see is that a good number of African-Americans view the ongoing effects of slavery, Jim Crow, etc, as part of an injustice that has never been righted. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it isn’t biblical. That a large number of pastors have found themselves guilty is self-evident by the eruption in the blogosphere. Count yourself blessed that you don’t know any of them.

      If you read this blog you know I have written an enormous amount about injustice. Obviously I do not know every case to condemn them specifically. Any number of men killed anywhere for skin color is appalling and unjust.

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  • Philip Council

    “heavily influenced by FOLK music and FOUND creative freedom…” FYI. no offense, just sayin’

  • Philip Council

    I believe everyone is missing the point of the whole song… Step back. “Step away” as Propaganda states in the very song under the magnifying glass. But that’s the problem. You are psychoanalyzing something that is very simple to grasp… The whole point of the song is this… GOD USES CROOKED STICKS TO MAKE STRAIGHT LINES. That’s all of us. Humanity. Sinful to the core. God changes us and we glorify Him. Who is anyone to speak of something too high and lofty for anyone to grasp except through the revelation of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, right? That’s the point Propaganda is trying to make. He even admits it at the end of the song, that he himself is just as crooked as the puritans.

  • Philip Council

    I am thankful that God uses us regardless.

  • Anastasios

    Actually, the Southern Baptist Convention DID officially express its support for abortion in 1972 (the year before Roe v. Wade). It wasn’t just the “liberals” who were responsible, either….W. A. Criswell, the President at the time (who had helped orchestrate the “conservative takeover” of the SBC just a few years prior) expressed approval after Roe v. Wade happened because he believed that a baby wasn’t really a human being until after it was born and took its first breath. This was actually a very common sentiment among evangelicals at the time, and it stemmed from a “sola scriptura” or “nuda scriptura” mindset that said, if the Bible never explicitly condemns abortion, it must not be wrong. The belief that life begins at conception was largely unique Roman Catholics at the time. It took several years before many prominent evangelical leaders (Francis Schaeffer in particular) realized they needed to reexamine the issue and eventually came to the conclusion that Rome was right.

  • Jay Rogers

    The song (rap?) is full of misnomers and popular myths. Michelangelo was a homosexual whose “boyfriend” became the face of Jesus? The song is a piece of pop culture. It doesn’t represent serious scholarship or criticism. The very idea in the rap that the paganism of Africa did not enslave men is laughable. That’s why it hasn’t received any attention. It doesn’t deserve any.

    The truth about the Puritans is that the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s was a world in which slavery a was almost universally accepted as a fact of life. Among the Puritans were those who first began to oppose slavery. It’s true that they did not appear until the late 1700s, but Puritans, Calvinists (and Christians in general) were among the leaders in the anti-slavery movement. Puritanism was not a religion (they were reformers within the Church of England) but rather it was a movement that can be traced to Calvinism. The NORTHERN Puritan states were the first to abolish slavery. The southern Presbyterian Calvinists were the last. The truth is that Christians of all denominations were wrong about slavery. But true Christianity stopped it. Slavery was not abolished by any other religion.