One great feature of this book is its brevity: in a sitting or two, you finish it, getting a bio of the most important players, and a discussion of Christian Identity’s doctrine, organized under several of the loci of orthodox theology. A second great feature is its moderate tone, completely avoiding the R-word as far as I noticed, and only mentioning the A-word a couple times. (Such praise cannot be extended to the blurbs on the back of the book, unfortunately, which do pull the R-word as well as ad populum demagoguery.)
The most important of Identity’s unique beliefs are these three: (1) the 10 tribes of Israel that went into exile in the 8th century BC were subsequently dispersed northward, then westward, and materialized 1200 years later as the Celts + Germanic + Nordic tribes. (2) These tribes are the only ones descended from Adam: the other races were of separate origin. (3) Christ’s sacrifice was only to redeem members of this race, not individuals of the other races.
A brief comment on each of these three points might help lower the emotional temperature that tends to rise in discussions like this. Point (1) is merely an historical hypothesis, without any intrinsic theological consequences one way or the other. It might be sound or crackpot, plausible or ridiculous, but in any case it is not heretical. (2) carries with it various corollaries: a separate creation of hominids prior to and distinct from that of Adam; and moreover, survival of the Flood by these creatures — not, I’m guessing, because two of each were taken into the ark, but rather because Noah’s flood was not universal in extent. Now there are some issues with these premises, but note the odd thing, that this basic framework of interpreting Gen. 1-11 bears a strong resemblance to the left-, not right-wing of modern evangelicalism. It is Peter Enns and his like that poo-poo the universal flood and posit the existence of hominids not descended from Adam. So the allegedly right-wing Identity folk can rightly say, “see? we were already there a hundred years ago.” (3) seems shocking at first blush, but note that the opinion of racially privileged access to God has been (and perhaps still is) held by many Jews, and amen’d by Dispensationalism. Indeed, since Identity folk believe they are Hebrews, it is in fact no different at all, except in accepting the Messiah that is rejected by Jews. So one should be as kind and gentle in dealing with people holding this view as one is inclined to be when interacting with Jews and Dispensationalists.
Actually, we do teach that all the Elect are from the same race. This is why the Savior had to become part of the human race, and why His sacrifice does not avail to redeem demons. So Rev. Roberts gets it wrong when he complains that “according to [Gayman’s] view, salvation and redemption are matters of race and blood” (59). Orthodoxy also teaches that salvation is a matter of race and blood. At issue is the extent of this “race and blood,” not the relevance of it.
Moreover, as Wittgenstein pointed out, if there is Election, then there could be Election by race (in the ordinary sense of the word). There is no a priori argument that could refute the possibility that all the Elect are from the same race. It would still be of grace. (This is why the title “race over grace” is a false dilemma, and also a vicious use of the fallacy ad populum, especially in our time, when our populus has been corrupted by a poisonous egalitarianism. A title like “race over grace” exploits that confusion opportunistically.)
A disproportionate amount of space is used refuting the claim that the Hebrew word “Adam” implies (racially) White. Frankly, I can’t see that this assertion carries much weight for Identity, even if it were true. As it is, for reasons wholly other than linguistic, I believe that Adam, if we could see a picture of him, would bear a closer “family resemblance” to the Aryan race than any other; and therefore, an “Aryan” is the distant ancestor of Semites, Orientals and Negroes. However, even if “Adam” meant red, or flushed, or the blushing one, and even if this name were closely tied to his being an Aryan, it would not bring me an inch closer to Identity. Only if Adam was called “the blushing one” as a way of distinguishing him from other hominids would the Identity thesis be established. But that is a huge argument from silence that goes far beyond the linguist history of the word “Adam.”
The Seedline Theory
This is the theory that Jews are literal, physical descendants of Satan via the seduction of Eve. Not all Identities hold to this view, which is why I did not list it above. Some Identities hold the more orthodox view that Jews are merely spiritual followers of Satan. Again, the problem I have with the seedline hyothesis is the same problem I have with Douglas Wilson and others that hold that the “sons of God” in Gen. 6 were angels that united with human females. Wilson’s “nephilim” are like Identity’s “jews.” So, again, let’s be as kind in our treatment of Identities as we are with Wilsonites. The most basic problem I have with the theory is that it involves a very radical violation of the principle of “kinds” delineated in Genesis one. We are not talking about offspring of a lion and tiger. We are talking about offspring from a pair that are ontologically in quite different categories, and this seems like an impossibility.
Quibbles aside, let’s grant that the persistent, indefatigable jewish subversion and corruption of the Western peoples for two millennia does call for an explanation. Even as I write this, jewish belligerence and manipulation is bringing the world to the brink of another world war, and it has yet to be seen if the outbreak of such will be avoided. Once the extent and incurable persistence of their vice is grasped, one can sympathize with the Satanic hypothesis. However, there is another hypothesis that is more plausible, namely, that the curse brought on their own heads as they crucified the Son of God still rests on them, on all of them (which is most) that do not renounce it. Instead of thinking of them as literal demons, we should model them like Tolkien’s orcs — elves that have so degenerated by persistent wickedness as to have become distorted in both body and soul. But our model has the advantage that it can account for the occasional jew that escapes, like Bobby Fischer, or Brother Nathaniel.
Trinity, Scripture, and Eschatology
The various doctrinal pronouncements on these all-important subjects show typical Identity groups not so much as heretical as amateurish. I will highlight the real problem under the Ecclesiology section.
Rev. Roberts himself veers into dangerous territory here, when he declares that restricting salvation to elect members of a particular racial and ethnic class
is precisely the distinction that Christ came to do away with, and it is precisely the belief that caused the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews to call for the death of Christ. They had made the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a religion of ethnic pride and exclusivity. Christ came to do away with those distinctions. (47)
There are two mistakes here. First, while doing away with the Hebrew/Gentile distinction was part of the “mystery” of salvation, set to be revealed in the fulness of time, it cannot be said that doing away with this distinction was what necessitated the incarnation. The latter would have been necessary even if the plan of God were only to save the nation of Israel. It is simply asking the wrong question to ask, “what distinction did Christ come to do away with?” He came to redeem sinners by paying their just penalty.
Second, it is not “precisely this belief” that was the Pharisees’ main problem. After all, they went to the ends of the earth to find converts. The problem was first and foremost a complete misunderstanding and turning upside down of the law of God; along with the fact that their pride was hurt by having their hypocrisy held up to public view.
This is where the ax could go to the roots. The redeemed are called to meet together to worship God under the leadership of an ordained ministry, and we do not have the right to pick and choose distinctives that bound the fellowship. Roberts hints at this problem, but fails to make it crystal clear. Later on, in his Conclusion section, he comes near to the point:
British-Israel teaching, though peculiar, was almost always coupled with some form of orthodoxy within a recognized Christian tradition. Almost all of the early British-Israelites were members of Anglican, Methodist, or Baptist churches (78)
In contrast, by separating into their own fellowships, Identity reveals that the real problem is not heresy but schism. Separating from the brethren over matters that are of secondary importance is to rend the body. And the group that so separates should not suppose that it has the power to ordain its own ministry. It is now cut off from the succession.
This is the root cause also of their amateurish doctrinal statements. It is evidently an aspect of epistemology designed in by our Creator, that we need to be in community to know anything with precision and to be able to articulate it. I know of no treatise written by a hermit on any subject that is worthy of serious study. The Identity community is not wide enough nor integrated enough to provide the needed corrective in their doctrinal pronouncements, even when the drift seems to be orthodox more or less.
The foundation for their schism is a confusion of speculation and science. You can imagine a Christian in any church wondering, “why is it that in two thousand years, only the Aryan nations have embraced the faith, root and branch; king, nobility, and peasant?” In other races, it has remained on the periphery. “Hm I wonder… Jesus said he came for the lost sheep of Israel… could it be that the ten lost tribes…?” and so forth. But the step from “hm, I wonder…” to “this is the case and we are going to form our own churches around this dogma” is a fatal move.
For this reason, a (real) church would be within its rights to defrock a minister that wanted to enforce Identity distinctives on new candidates, but not to excommunicate a layman. The schismatic error is not something inherently heretical about the belief, but is caused by the lack of epistemic caution in going from mere speculation to settled belief not supported by adequate evidence. Such a propensity should not be tolerated in the ministry, but had better be in the laity, or all us sheep are in trouble.
We need to admit that, armed with Identity’s viewpoint, many tensions of Scripture go away. We could fall in with the angels-and-women interpretation of Gen. 6, and put the condemnation under the rubric of race mixing. (Or for that matter, do so without the angels.) Ezra and Nehemiah’s command to divorce the foreign wives suddenly makes perfect sense — frankly, the spiritualized version we are normally taught is not logical. The warnings in the wisdom literature about the “strange” i.e. foreign woman would fall in place. Some of Christ’s seemingly ethno-centric statements would become more comfy. The tension in election — easier to understand a parents’ unique love for his own children over others’ — would be relieved.
On the other hand, there are other ways to relieve many of the tensions: for example, under a kinist hermeneutic, in which all races are on an equal footing, yet within their rights to maintain their boundaries. In short, Identity may be the body’s antibiotic over-reaction to an unholy spiritualizing of the text that perhaps has infected the modern church.
However, other, new tensions appear on the Identity model. The hypothesis that Negroes are sub-human would explain much typical Negro behavior. However, there are too many new difficulties.
- Interbreeding. Not only would the hypothesis violate the law of kinds begetting (fertile) kind, but then the status of mulatto offspring would need to be addressed. Human in one generation? Five generations? Ten generations? Or never (the one drop rule)?
- Moral intuition. When Negroes commit crimes they should be held accountable. Now of course you can shoot a mad dog that attacks humans or animals, and many Negroes should be shot by kinsmen avengers long before the endlessly protracted judeo-trial, but that is another matter. The point is, it seems intuitive that Negroes act immorally, not amorally. When they kill, they should be executed, not “put to sleep.”
- Language. If Negroes are “talking animals,” it means we are in a Narnia-like situation. Then why don’t other animals talk? Moreover, it seems like language is very close to what the imago dei means. We would not dispatch talking beavers either. They would be our “brothers” in a very deep sense (though of course not as to miscegenation).
Likewise, the hypothesis that jews are super-human — for half human, half angelic, even if fallen angelic, must count as super-human on a normal ranking — has the same problem (1) listed above. When does the demon get washed out, or does it ever? Can the human half be saved? What if there is just one demonic drop left, and so forth? How could one ever know?
Other problems with Identity thesis may be listed. There are exegetical problems in all the Jew/Greek passages teaching a “both, but with a distinction.”
- There is neither Jew nor Greek, Gal 3:28.
- To the Jew first, and also to the Greek, Rom 2:9-10
- Peter to the circumcision, and Paul to the Gentiles, Gal. 2:8.
- no respect of persons with God, Rom 2:11 — but is not the ability to say “I” sufficient to qualify as a person?
Perhaps most obvious of all, is the lack of historical evidence for the hypothesized migrations, as well as some glaring difficulties:
- Roman statuary suggests that at least the Roman aristocracy was Aryan. But Romulus was founding Rome at about the same time as the exile of the Northern Kingdom. And their tradition stretches out hundreds of years prior to him. Likewise, Greek statuary indicates Aryan roots, yet their history feathers into the time of the exile with no such westward migration indicated, nor plausible in view of the narrative of Herodotus, for example. Also, the linguistic change — radical, from Semitic to Indo-Germanic — is simply impossible in such a short time. And that without leaving a trace.
- What about the Southern Kingdom, which returned under Ezra and Nehemiah and had a continuous history until the time of our Lord? It makes no more sense to suppose these were replaced by Edomites as to suppose that the founding fathers of the US were Turks who were replaced by Englishmen in the course of time. Without this basic level of continuity there is simply no history at all.
- The suggestion that “British” comes from Heb. berith-ish (covenant-man) is too absurd. The -ic suffix (which became -ish) is simply one old-english way to form adjectives, and thus has no historical-linguistic connection to Hebrew ish. Moreover, the Britons were Celts and were overwhelmed eventually by the Anglo-Saxons and other Nordics, but where is the “berith” memory of the latter? and so forth.
Perhaps Identity has answers for these. If so, then I would fault Rev. Robert’s book for not wrestling with them in detail; if not, then for not driving them home.
Roberts, Charles H. Race over Grace: The Racialist Religion of the Christian Identity Movement. (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2003)