Puritans and Propaganda

Is criticizing the racist cultural roots of Puritanism out of bounds? That’s what some Calvinists are debating following Christian rapper Propaganda’s scathing indictment of Puritan history.

HOLY HIP-HOP CONTROVERSY: Rapper Propaganda’s blistering critique of Puritanism’s racist history has some Reformed listeners crying foul.

Rapper Propaganda created a tornado of criticism with the recent release of “Precious Puritans” on his new album Excellent (available here). In the song, Propaganda reminds his audience to increase their cultural intelligence by caring about the black experience in America and to recognize the fact that, like the Puritans, we all have blind spots and need to have our minds constantly renewed (Rom. 12:2) by God’s word. The song also challenges those who uncritically treat the Puritans as a protected class that stands outside of the Bible’s command to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21).

For those who may be unfamiliar, Puritanism was a Christian reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late 16th century. The movement spilled over into New England well into the 17th century and had a significant influence on the mores of America’s founding. Theologically speaking, the Puritans were committed to the doctrines of grace that emerged from the Protestant Reformation, with their particular emphasis on the intersection of sound doctrine and personal piety. In recent years, many young white Baptists and non-denominational evangelicals have been looking for substantive, theologically driven, analytic approaches to personal piety rooted in a tradition they found lacking in their own backgrounds. Thirsting for depth and history, these “new-Calvinists,” with the help of well-known pastors like John Piper, have found spiritual enrichment by studying the Puritans.

“Precious Puritans” simply raises a caution about loving the Puritans too much because, although they had sound doctrine on issues like personal piety, that tradition was complicit in perpetrating injustice against Africans and African Americans during the slavery. The song opens with these words:

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 heartbreak.
Like, not you too pastor.
You know they were the chaplains on slave 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.

The song continues to highlight ways in which the black experience in the Puritan tradition is mishandled within white conservative evangelicalism. However, instead of leaving it simply at critique and dismissal, like we might find among some black liberation theologians, Propaganda ends the song by confessing that he is no less flawed than the Puritans, as his wife can attest, and offers praise to God because “God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines.” That is, Propaganda is calling for humility in recognizing that, in the end the noetic effects of sin are present in the Puritans, in himself, and the rest of us. As such, what is to be praised is not any class of men but the providence and sovereignty of God that He fulfills his mission through messed up people. (Check out the video for “Precious Puritans” below.)

What’s been so odd to me is the tribalist attacks from those who fear that Propaganda is in some way throwing the Puritans under the bus to never be read again. A lamentable example of this is a blog post by Professor Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College. In his post, Strachan suggests that the song might be dangerous because he wonders “if Propaganda isn’t inclining us to distrust the Puritans. He states his case against them so forcefully, and without any historical nuance, that I wonder if listeners will be inclined to dislike and even hate them.”

Is this a slippery slope? Does testing and critiquing leads to this? Did Martin Luther’s comments about Jews incline people to hate him and reject him? Or John Calvin’s execution of Michael Servetus? Or Abraham Kuyper’s racism? Or Jonathan Edwards slave owning? I could go on.

The answer, of course, is “yes” and “no.” Those who would reject the Puritans because of their white supremacy will themselves struggle to find much of anyone in Western Christianity to embrace. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in some way (Rom. 3:23), including all of those we hold in high esteem. There is an obvious “no” because this is not how the Bible teaches Christians to engage in cultural and historical analysis. We are to eat the meat and spit out the bones. This includes those who are both inside and outside the tribe. There is much meat in the Puritans but there are also massive bones.

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.

The largest concern is the seemingly tribal nature of many of Propaganda’s Puritan-loving critics. Could this be an example of confirmation bias? As Jonathan Haidt explains in the book The Righteous Mind, confirmation bias is “the tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what you already think” (80). In general, according to Haidt, we are good at challenging statements made by other people but when it comes to one’s own presuppositions facing opposition the tendency is to protect it and keep it. Therefore, “if thinking is confirmatory rather than explanatory … what chances is there that people will think in an open-minded, explanatory way when self-interest, social identity, and strong emotions make them want or even need to reach a preordained conclusion?” (81). In this sense, Propaganda broke a tribal code: never critique anyone within the tribe.

Strachan considers the Puritans “forefathers” and in a tribalist way, some would argue, seeks to protect their legacy. Had Propaganda dropped a track critiquing Roman Catholics, Jeremiah Wright, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, or preachers of the prosperity gospel, he’d be called a hero. During my seminary years I was rebuked once for mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon because of his sins. Why? Because King, like the others, are outside the tribe and are fair game to be critiqued in any form. Since they are not “one of us” there is no expectation of extending grace. Grace is reserved for those with whom we agree.

RHYTHM AND POETRY: Propaganda’s latest album, ‘Excellent.’

I experienced this tribal protectionism when I challenged Doug Wilson’s poor historiography of the antebellum South. Theologians Carl Trueman and Scott Clark experienced this recently when stating that complementarianism is not a “gospel issue.” The bottom line is that the Bible provides a model for the importance of confessing the sins of our fathers (Neh. 9:2) and testing everything (1 Thess. 5:21). Why? Because if we do not hold those in the past accountable to God’s Word we will repeat their sins. “Precious Puritans” is the iron that sharpens us. It keeps us from making the Puritans a golden calf. Racism and white supremacy is the other Reformed tradition so we need regular reminders to hold God and his Word in high esteem over the works of mere men.

After reading Strachan’s post I was left wondering if he had ever read Joseph Washington’s books on Puritans and race (Puritan Race Virtue, Vice and Values, 1620-1820: Original Calvinist True Believers’ Enduring Faith and Ethics Race Claims, Anti-Blackness in English Religion 1500-1800, and Race and Religion in Early Nineteenth Century America, 1800-1850: Constitution, Conscience, and Calvinist Compromise). In light of Washington’s research, what Propaganda did in this song is minimal. Candidly, it is difficult for me to see why Propaganda’s song stands out in light of the thousands of pages of published writings of Puritan white supremacy that seems to have had no effect on people treating them as a protected class. In the new Calvinist world, there seems to be a growing trend that you can have “hard-hitting exhortation” as long as it is directed at those who are not beloved within the new-Calvinist tribe. The best critique of Strachan’s tribalism comes from Pastor Steve McCoy, so I will not repeat his excellent points here but McCoy concludes that Strachan completely misses the point of Propaganda’s song.

Lastly, it seems that as a rapper himself, Strachan would not expect much “nuance” in a genre that normally uses hyperbole as a rhetorical device. After all, it is a rap song. Since when does anyone expect “rhythm and poetry” (a.k.a. RAP) to have nuances and qualifications? I wonder why Strachan is not treating the song according to its genre.

Strachan’s defensiveness of his forefathers, who get it right, demonstrates exactly why Propaganda needed to produce this song. In fact, perhaps we need more rhythm and poetry to help us test and confess. If artists like Propaganda are not given freedom to call us to critique our theology and culture, we cannot achieve true racial solidarity in the kingdom. Songs like “Precious Puritans” keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

About the author, Anthony B. Bradley

Dr. Anthony B. Bradley is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College in New York City and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Black and Tired and Liberating Black Theology. Visit his website, The Institute, and follow him on Twitter @drantbradley.
  1. Outstanding analysis and article. I might read it two more times and most some thoughts as right now I am truly blown away by gritty analysis that truly gets down to some of the issues. I am a big believer of the “eating meat and throwing away bones” concept where it is hard to find a teacher, author, theorist, and writer of the human variety that anyone can mirror in thought or we could be guilty of replacing out real example in scripture. I believe critical thought and analysis is expected of Christians, including the most critical part of analysis which is empathy. Denying the racially biased and harmful past of our forefathers in this country and clinging to a concept of ignorance about their very public and prominent belief that their are those in this world more worthy of dignity and respect than others is a sin. As they left a country in which they were prosecuted for their faith (which Christians in this country are very sensitive about when it applies to OUR faith), only to prosecute and hold slave to others for their religion and/or race, seems to me a little like the example told by Jesus of the man forgiven of his debt to only go out and beat up the person owing him money demanding it get paid back. I believe Jesus’s parable was concluded with the one owing the original debt being referred to as “wicked”. I am a White Caucasian female, but have a hard time with the seemingly hypocritical stance in my own racial community about the concepts and beliefs about other races, religions, and the “rightness” of the founding fathers.

    I understand the concepts of “throwing away bones” and appreciate the humility of Propoganda’s song, but still believe that if any human considers themselves of having power and supremacy over another person or race or income level, they boast in things they did not achieve and are no different than Nebuchadnezzar II and the reason for his 7 years in a field. God tolerated much from Nebuchadnezzar, but he did not tolerate the self affirming arrogance after extending him so much grace.

    Professor, do you think that this apparent arrogance of race and position which you bring out is any different than Nebuchadnezzar walking on his terrace?

    • Wow, KA. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I’ll need to reflect on this. You raise an interesting point.

  2. Disclaimer: I’m a prof at Puritan Reformed Seminary! Thanks for this challenging piece Anthony! Painful but necessary. The only question I have is about your question in the first line. “Is criticizing the racist roots of Puritanism out of bounds?” Is that an accurate way to frame the discussion? It seems to imply that Puritanism is rooted in racism, that it grew out of racism, that it was motivated by racism. I don’t think that’s what you want to say. If it is, can you give me more argument/evidence because that’s a massive claim and one I haven’t seen before. This doesn’t take away anything from the valuable work in the rest of the piece. Although obviously I’d rather the history was very different, the more truth we have, the more it will set us and all free.

  3. i’d call this song a step in Props development as a spiritual being. He’s having a difficult time negotiating his cultural experience as an AA with the white homogenous cultural experience of being a ‘new-Calvinist.’ I think, though, that Props real bait and switch, was his inability to draw the (admittedly troubling) conclusion that WE ARE NOT ALL SINNERS IN THE SAME WAY even if we (on his soteriology) we are guilty of sin in the same way. For Prop to equate his shortcoming as a husband with the people and cultural institutions that systematically exploited other human beings is…well…wack.

    • Since when is New Calvinist a White Homogenous experience. You have no idea how its growing in Latinamerica. Just because we aren’t used to blogs or websites, let me remind you this is not something white, but a rediscovery of the Gospel. Hispanics in the U.S. and Latinamerica are hearing good biblical gospel from reformed perspective like never before, and they are not the “vicitms” decrying the so called “imperialism” that was so prevalent in liberation theologies. Thats so 60’s, things are different. Thats old rhetoric, its like a little girl crying after you gave her her lollypop. My only concern is why did popular Evangelicalism walk away from such a legacy in the Reformers and the Puritans.

      • Jonathan Martinez,

        Yes the Reformed faith is growing in Latin America, thank you for highlighting that! I have many friends that are at the head of this and ARE Latinos not “White”. I too encourage this through my Spanish web site that contains many Puritan writings that we have translated into Spanish. However we advocate a return to the Old-School Presbyterian/Covenanter position, NOT New Calvinism. The Covenanters always opposed slavery and racial separation…and it is way more consistent with Scripture overall than the New Calvinism…


  4. Dear sir,

    Thank you for you post. It was well written. However, I fear a few things have been overlooked with regards to history. The song did not represent the puritans accurately. As you noted, strictly speaking, the puritans were 17th century English Reformers. Thus men such as William Perkins, William Ames, John Owen, John Flavel, Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, Thomas Goodwin, and Richard Sibbs, puritans that have been reprinted and are most often quoted, never owned African slaves nor served as chaplains on slave ships. Sadly, yes, many of their successors did. This is shameful and wrong. Period. But let us be clear on the facts. To say “the puritans were racist, owned African slaves, and worked on slave ships,” without clarification violates the ninth commandment.

    I am for Propaganda’s basic purposes: let us never idolize men, point out error wherever they exist, and, let us praise God that “He draws straight lines with crooked sticks.” I only wish he had made this latter point more clear.

    Mike Waters
    Heritage Reformed Baptist

    • Hi Mike, you said “To say “the puritans were racist, owned African slaves, and worked on slave ships,” without clarification violates the ninth commandment.” This is ridiculous. Have you read any of the books I listed in the post. If not, it might be helpful to reserve judgement until you know more about the history.

      • Anthony. Thanks for the response. Let simply clarify. To the degree that my puritan forefathers sanctioned, practiced, or condoned man-stealing or race-based/forced slavery, I am grieved and refuse to justify them. However, I am simply saying what you’re saying. Let us speak with knowledge. I have read most of what has been reprinted from the puritan era. Most of these works concern 17th century English puritans such as Baxter, Burroughs, Owen, Bunyan, Brooks, Sibbs, Charnock, Brooks, Watson, and others. These are the men that have been recently reprinted and are being quoted (at least by me). None of these men owned African slaves nor were they chaplains on slave ships. Nor has anyone provided from their writings verification that they sanctioned either. This is my point. Let us refrain from making broad statements that are not true. I encourage you to forgo books about the puritans and read them for yourself.

        Let me also say. I like Propaganda’s record, and yes, even Precious Puritans, has begun to grow on me. Why? Because it tells an important truth that needs telling. I only wish it told the whole story. This is a good conversation. It has made me think in ways I have not. I appreciate your heart for truth and for our beloved Savior.

        May He cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

        Mike Waters
        Heritage RBC

  5. And the blacks were pagans… should we not quote anything written by a black then? Of course not all blacks were pagans, any more than all Puritans were slave-ship-chaplains. But what’s a little poisoning the well between Christians?

    • @ Micah Burke But no one is exalting the Blacks as being sinless. The point is the forefathers who were puritans have been idolized and put on a pedal stool of being unmarred. The moral of the story is we are all marred. No one is without sin.

  6. I somewhat agree with this article. My disagreement could only be stated in terms of degrees. Since the African American experience in many ways could be described as “survivalist”, I can understand why many African Americans view many things in terms of whether or not those things have been historically kind to black people. I can understand why a movement, or a certain period in history, would only be judged on the basis of one particular sin, especially when that sin (racism, white supremacy) has meant what it has for black people. I do wonder what the alternative is for some blacks though. I’ve known some black folk who seem to judge most things on the degree to which they affirm, promote, or subscribe to the historical black experience. In other words, for them, most things are judged in terms of whether or not someone black was involved.

    There is a fatal flaw in this way of thinking. Namely: the entire human race, all throughout history, is riddled with racists. There isn’t an art, science, or denomination which has been free of them. I would be less concerned about African Americans seeing Puritans in too positive a light than I would be about African Americans discarding every category inhabited by white supremacists, or worse, anything that smacks of “whiteness”.

    “You know they were the chaplains on slave ships, right?” Right. So not only should black people not love Puritans too much, but should also not love chaplains too much.

    “Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees? Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs?” I don’t know… Did Columbus or Cortez leave any knowledge behind worth salvaging? Furthermore, would you quote Cherokees or Aztecs to whatever tribes they historically oppressed? Or wiped out? Maybe you should if the knowledge they possess, having greater access to a wider range of knowledge due to being part of the privileged class, could help those tribes rebuild.

    And this demonstrates one of the worst results of racism. Not only should African Americans be wary of racist whites with cultural access, but they should be wary of cultural access in general. Not only should they be wary of whites, but everything whites have touched. Whatever is historically “white” is bad. Whatever is historically “black” is good. And yet no one, ever, completely behaves according to this criteria. No one says they should be whipped simply because black people used to be whipped. Some people say they should be ignorant simply because black people used to be ignorant. And they do so by labeling certain experiences as “white” and whites have been racists and racists, by definition, are not favorable to black people, and therefore those experiences aren’t appropriate for black people to take advantage of.

    The problem is, if we say that, we’re basically saying we can only go as far as what our own people have produced. But if what our own people have produced was produced under oppressive circumstances without having the same level of cultural access as the privileged class, then, sadly, it will have been produced in relative ignorance and only serves to keep us oppressed. There must be a way to plunder the Egyptians without becoming them. There must be a way to appreciate the hands that made the pyramids and wrote the hieroglyphics without espousing their gods. (I said “our” and “we” as a rhetorical device. My own ethnic background consists of Irish, German, and no more than a drop of Cherokee and Leni Lenepe).

    It gets complex. So I have to ask myself a simple question whether I’m reading Martin Luther King or Adolph Hitler. No matter what they say, no matter the circumstances under which they said it, the question must always be: Is it true?

    You mentioned eating the meat and spitting out the bones. I’m basically saying the same…

    • it sounds more like you’re saying ‘don’t mention the bones’ b/c there are bones everywhere in this world of meats. B/c I think no one is currently disagreed on whether Puritan orthodoxy was true or not. The discussion is why orthopraxy was woefully off, and why the push-back in addressing this openly. Actually no right now, it’s all about ‘why the push-back’ lol.
      Have I handled your points well/did I misread you? Good day, bro!

      • I find it interesting that anyone critical of the song is labelled as unwilling to address it openly, or some other such nonsense. Isn’t it possible that something really is wrong with the song? We do have the ninth commandment to consider, so it bears some open and vigorous discussion. “We need to talk. You be quiet and I’ll talk” is a bit disingenuous.

      • Yes, you have misread me. If you would like to know what I’m saying, you probably should just read what I’m saying.

  7. Puritanism’s roots were racist?
    I thought the descendants of Puritans that peaced out to the New World jumped wholeheartedly into chattel slavery and then DEFENDED it (Dabney-style), while the descendants that stayed back didn’t – largely b/c the abolition movement was established & soon carried the day in England. This is what I thought the brouhaha was about.

    With the opening words of this blog, are the roots of Puritanism itself being deemed racist?
    B/c it seems like they are being deemed that – which is farther than I can follow you into this current argument. (I’ve ‘amen-ed’ virtually everything from your end thus far).

    (FWIW, I’m African but have spent most of my life in North America & recently have been drawn to the writings of John Owen. I’m fxnally treated as ‘African-American’…but it’s not necessarily the most accurate of social labels lol).

    Thanks for the article!

    • Without vouching for everything he wrote, Dabney did not defend the African slave trade or race-based slavery per se, but slavery in principle. Agree or disagree, it is a clarification worth noting. His theological work is some of the most powerful, but so often, as some are concerned with happening to the Puritans in general here, all he said is lost because of a disagreement with his position on this issue, which position had at least arguable biblical support. Again, agree or disagree with his exegesis, he did at least seek to set forth a biblical position on slavery in principle.

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  10. Very helpful post, Anthony. I’ve linked to it in my latest post, as you’ve already noticed. This is such a helpful conversation for the church, and I’m glad Prop provoked it.

  11. Outside of the Exodus I don’t see a clear directive for the abolishment of slavery. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,” Not that the evils that were done against the slaves are tolerable, but to say, because the Puritans did not abolish slavery that they were altogether bad or evil is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • Except it did not begin and end with solely “slavery” did it?

      Similar to Jim Crow Laws, many of the laws passed were designed to keep Africans from socializing or “lurking” together for fear there would be “upheaval”. The laws in 1680 starting being passed to limit any movement of Africans and while colonists passed “liberty laws” to ensure their right to health and freedom, yet in those that period actively sought laws to “define” slavery as legitimate. Some of the earliest laws were those sought to legalize slavery. Additionally with those “slave laws” came laws based solely on the color of a man or woman or child’s skin. This was not a “ignorant sin” of slavery, this was bias, prejudice, and clear white supremacy over the indigenous people and kidnapped Africans.

      To say this is a “blind spot” and irrelevant is like saying the Pharisees were misunderstood. The effort it took to “legalize” their greed for keeping the additional money they had as the hand of free labor and their apparent disdain for nonwhites by refusing human liberties they saw the need to give themselves is pretty compelling evidence that they knew what they were doing and the sin of bias was not just restricted to some Biblical right they thought they had to “slavery”.

      They disregarded basic confines of respect, empathy, while actively writing and passing laws to take away the humans rights of men, women, and children knowingly and intently.

      I challenge you to show me a place Jesus would have taught that would be “confusing” in this manner. They did not conquer a land at God’s command and bring back prisoners such as David might have done. They went to an island and kidnapped people they felt to be “cursed” and “heathen” based on the color of their skin and exploited them for work and control.

      Slavery is not a sin that is committed in a vacuum of other things. It starts with a thought of supremacy, control, entitlement, and mindful arrogance. To say they were “blind” to these actions is to overlook the complete picture of their communities actions during this time.

      Many Puritans overwhelming ability to intentional treat a significant amount of people that were a different race than themselves in a manner they they themselves would not tolerate is hypocritical and done with full knowledge of their actions.

    • And he that STEALETH a man, AND SELLETH him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:16)

      If a man be found STEALING ANY OF HIS BRETHREN of the children of Israel, AND MAKETH MERCHANDISE OF HIM, OR SELLETH HIM; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you. (Deuteronomy 24:7)

      Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for MENSTEALERS, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; (1 Timothy 1:9-10)

      Please consider these articles and video:




    • The defintion of slaves in Biblical times and in the New World times is different. And ‘slaves’ were treated much different in both times.

  12. John Calvin did not execute Servetus. The civil magistrate executed Servetus. Get your facts straight, and I’ll more easily listen to what you have to say.

    I’ve had “white guilt” shoved down my throat all my adult life – over forty years – for sins I did not commit and for which I have no responsibility to repent. I’ll give the latest attempt a pass too, whether or not it comes from men I otherwise respect. I do have responsibility for my own relationship with God and the people with whom I live and work and worship. I have no time for, and no interest in, dwelling on the weaknesses of past heroes of the faith. Once you go down that road, you’ll end up praising no one, but you will feel comfortable with yourself, and you just might develop a self-righteous streak without even knowing it,

    • Frank you said, “I have no time for, and no interest in, dwelling on the weaknesses of past heroes of the faith.” It’s unfortunate that you don’t value the Old Testament. I hope you can be convinced some day of its importance. if you do some day maybe Neh 9:2 will explain what “Precious Puritans” is all about.

      • Anthony the text does not help you. First part enforces segregation, Second part the sins were against God, not having followed his ways, one which they should have have married foreigners.

        • type. “God had ordered them not to marry foreigners, for they would lead them away from God. That was the sin.

  13. Ummm, :

    “Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees?
    Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs?
    Even If they theology was good?”

    What did Columbus have to do with the Cherokees? And wasn’t he Roman Catholic?
    And as for Cortez, I don’t know what he was but I’m pretty sure he was not a Puritan, and I’m pretty sure that neither followed “good theology”.

    Is my critique of the rapper’s critique fair? Or am I just defending white supremacy again?
    And let’s assume that the “rap” against the Puritans is valid. What now? Be ashamed of them? Pretend they didn’t exist, especially when teaching and preaching? What? Just tell me what I’m supposed to do to make black people stop constantly and perpetually reminding me and themselves that our forefathers were evil?

    • Except the evils continue today while the forefather are, as far as I know, dead.

    • Joel B, to answer your question — the answer is to use more care and consideration and be intentional about trying to see history from other group perspective. And by the way, black people don’t remind you that your forefathers were evil in order to lord it over you to prove that we’re Better Than You or that you’re a Bad Person. We do it because we want you to recognize the truth of what’s happened and, having been enlightened to some extent, try to make it better.

      I don’t know if you are a pastor or an author or a theologian, but if you are, perhaps having read this post, you’ll be willing to add a sentence or two somewhere to combat the perception of American exceptionalism that is partially because of an over-romanticized view of the Puritans by reformed theologians.

      • Jelani.

        Beautifully put .

      • jelani, “try to make better” since when did Joel do anything against Black Culture? Is their enslaved blacks today? I really need to know this, it should stop.

        “Over-Romanticized view of the Puritans by Reformed Theologians” are you serious have you taken classes with Ian Murray, Beeke, Sproul, Piper. They do talk about much of their shortcomings, see Piper on George Whitfield he touches on race. This “over romanticizing” is an exageration.

  14. While Bradley presents a side that can challenge in some ways, I wonder what Propaganda would say if challenged with the inconsistency that If one is to say “Like, not you pastor” when quoting the Puritans because some Puritans had blind spots, should we not say the same to Bradley & Propaganda b/c Propaganda admits he is ‘no less flawed than the Puritans”? Yes, context is important when preaching & who we are preaching to (so as not to cause unnecessary offense) but at the same time there must be recognition of what is being quoted or held up by the individuals and what is not. There are some good points here about warnings & the need to be on guard regarding tribalism. There’s also a point to be made in that as rappers are lifted recognized more & lifted up they must be ready for greater scrutiny.

    • Tim,

      I agree with you to a point surely about the sensitivity of pastors and teachers about the larger implications of holding up as a suitable “mark” the profile of a community that was indeed flawed with not only the sin of slavery. Also prevalent in those talks is the very apparent “white privilege” projected by the colonists, irrespective of slavery. They gave allowance of “liberties” for themselves and the denial of those same “liberties” for others they deemed “strangers”.

      It is more than evidence of an exclusive privilege that they somehow felt God granted over others. This is reminiscent of many of the talks of Jesus about the Jewish leaders in his time. I think many of those rebukes of pride and arrogance Jesus readily gave can be directly applicable to the exact mindset of the 1636 – 1780 Puritans from Massachusetts and New England colonies. By the measure of the laws they passed and the communal rules they followed, they felt themselves somehow “blessed” or specially endowed with a distinctive “calling” from God. I know the famous sermons, I have studied the resulting theological doctrine, and am well aware of the love affair that many reformation scholars and followers have with this era. I do not now, nor have I ever shared that passion in the church and I am no less a child of God than the others.

      In regards to the point about “audience” you are preaching to, I think that point has merit, but honestly, it makes me more than uncomfortable. It gives image of a pastor looking around to make sure there are no minorities in the room before talking about what they “really” want to. I can see the SNL skit now.

      I think going beyond cultural sensitivity (which is lacking in the church today) to actually deploying critical thought via a thorough empathy mapping of the experiences of the different “stakeholders” of the early colonies. I think after doing that, the leaders may find that the position they hold dear for a Puritan colonies bear some crucial reconsidering when suing them as examples.

      If I used a posting from Richard Beck in a conservative room, I would be blasted for not reconsidering his position looking at the fact that he is a self proclaimed Universalist, though there is much wisdom in this bringing together of the science of psychology and the realities of scripture.

      The thing I find strange is that many of the reformist theologians will not consider the arguments of one they do not agree with on much lessor doctrinal issue yet they will overlook 140 years of racial and nationalistic slavery and demoralization of an entire population of people to get large portions of doctrine and scriptural “insight” from the plight of the Puritans. It seems largely hypocritical to me.

      So while I agree that racial sensitivity is needed, I also think it goes much further on the spectrum of the “real” problem here.

  15. Perhaps you could produce some quotes from Puritans that demonstrate they supported the kind of slavery we should be appalled about. Richard Baxter openly wrote that man stealing “is one of the worst kinds of thievery in the world; and such persons are to be taken for the common enemies of mankind; and they that buy them and use them as beasts, for their mere commodity, and betray, or destroy, or neglect their souls, are fitter to be called incarnate devils than Christians.”

    • Kyle B, I’m not sure if you read the post or not but you can read up on this here: Joseph Washington’s books on Puritans and race ( 1. Puritan Race Virtue, Vice and Values, 1620-1820: Original Calvinist True Believers’ Enduring Faith and Ethics Race Claims, 2. Anti-Blackness in English Religion 1500-1800, and 3. Race and Religion in Early Nineteenth Century America, 1800-1850: Constitution, Conscience, and Calvinist Compromise)

      • Anthony how scholarly is to just have one author as a source? Do you have others? if this is the only one, why would it not be considered bias?

  16. I am a little surprised at the comments I am reading. The notion that what Prop is writing about is “in the past” is probably the most startling one. I can only assume that the majority of people writing the comments that assert this, are White Caucasians.

    Props brings up some amazing points about the race that needs to think about their race. It is very true. There are injustice that happens each and every day in this country around the judgement given and the assumptions held based solely on the color of someones skin. I could list a plethora of scripture that tells us that standing up to injustice is God’s plan for us and loving our neighbor is only second to being dedicated to God. If we are not opening our eyes to the injustice that was not just 200 years ago, but now carries over to 2012 as a societal dynamic, we are not doing the will of God as quite clearly shown in scripture.

    Genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, racial injustice is not the “acts” of a period of time, their effects last hundreds of years. For example, in Russia, the disfranchisement of orphans and the removal of state care has carried over to the care and concern society has about orphans in many of the former Soviet states. Hate and abuse does not last a year, a generation, or a decade. If the pendulum is not corrected widely the other way after such historic atrocities, the social element will remain and the crime will perpetuate.

    Apathy and indifference will never correct a societal wrong. It will only perpetuate it for int hat society until it is stopped. Props song is a stark reminder int his country that when the words “We the People” were written, and the seeking of “Domestic Tranquility” was asserted, this was not written, nor meant for everyone. There was a clear belief in that room of many of those members that signed this that indigenous people, slaves, and certain “classes” were not included including orphans (ever heard of “orphan trains”), indentured servants (Asian), and the like. The need to pass a Civil Rights Act in 1964, the existence of Internment Camps, and “assigned” reservations that existed in this generation of people where passed hundreds of years after the Constitution should prove we are a people still feeling our way as a nation and a people of transition and thinking everyone is protected equally in the law of this land is an ignorant fallacy.

    • KA, I am very surprised by many of the comments.

      • They are worse on other blog sites on the same topic.

        I am truly blown away by the justification and defense of the Puritan colony. There were many grievous actions and laws that there not under the heading of “slavery” but certainly in the assumptions and actions of the community, even well known pastors who spoke out against the colonies apathy for their souls but declined to comment on the grievous nature of holding a person, in general, as property.

  17. Solid post Anthony. You are touching on issues with which it is obvious (from some of these comments, not least) many in our tradition have not come to grips. Keep it up!

    Frank, Calvin did not execute Servetus in the same sense that the Roman Catholic Church never executed a single heretic or Protestant. The clergy always handed that task over to the civil magistrate, but that did not make them any less complicit.

  18. I don’t deny either the sins associated with racism or that preachers need to consider how their audiences will respond to who they choose to quote (quite frankly, due to lack of education or the issue being previously raised) I have not considered how African Americans might perceive or receive a quotation from the Puritans, … and I imagine the preacher Prop listened probably hadn’t either), but I do know that given the great value of so much of the Puritan history & writings, it would be a great disservice to individuals whatever their race may be to dissuade them from reading and becoming familiar with the Puritans & their writings, which is something Prop should consider (in addition to drawing attention to the race related perceptions).

    Anthony, let me say I appreciate from what I am familiar with your mind, your passions, and your writings, but at the same time you address the race issues, would you not also affirm (before all race communities) the value of knowing and learning from the Puritans and their writings?

    • I am one that believes the most valuable lesson from the community, by in large, was the very unwritten lesson in the substitution of legalism for true religion (as defined in James 1:27).

      ” Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 (NLT)

      (which I have no doubt they did for their fellow colonists….they just did not apply this concept to anyone else which may negate the whole thing…see also: Luke 10: 25 – 37)

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  20. Anthony, I hope to read the books you mentioned, however, it seems a bit unhelpful to tell people to read books instead of engaging them in a reply on the blog. Most wont pick up and read entire books just to make progress in a blog conversation. I am interested in a response from you in particular, especially regarding Richard Baxter’s position on slavery as he was perhaps in many ways the most popular 17th century Puritan. Also of interest is the first American anti-slavery tract, which was written by a Puritan. One could add that there seems to be a Puritan influence contributing to later Abolitionists. Further, I think it is necessary to note that most Puritans quoted from the pulpit are not known to have owned slaves, so are we making arguments from silence? For some Puritans, there is limited information about them outside their publications. In our context, if an author does not write a book about abortion will he be noted by history as an abortion approver? Obviously these comments are not meant to deny many Puritans were moral monsters. It’s just that Evangelical reference to Puritans usually refers to the likes of Jeremiah Burroughs, Richard Baxter, etc. The point being, some people might feel like the baby isn’t being thrown out with the sewer-like bathwater. Perhaps Puritan-lovers just don’t understand sensitive social issues! Nonetheless, this discussion is helpful to encourage more nuance from the pulpit rather than sweeping approval of those called “Puritans.” There is certainly much potential for hurt there.

    I hope this great conversation continues. Thanks!

    • Tim W,

      Well said. You write with truth and in love. Keep up the good work.

      Peace and grace,

      Mike Waters
      Heritage RBC

      • Tim and Mike, Anthony wont answer that, as much as he scolds people for not reading his Joseph R. Washington Books, he himself is the recipient of his own criticism. I stand to wonder how much has been really read of the Puritans to have such a strong criticism of them. Quoting from one author as Washington does not bring a “balanced’ view of what was going on.

      • I think as someone had mentioned before, there is a misunderstanding of Props song. What I got from it (the entire message – we seem to have ignored his last verse), is that we should NOT pedestal any individuals. Of course many puritans wrote the right things, and even many also did the right things, but the point is that, they were NOT perfect. No one is. I understand where Prop is coming from. If we are honest with ourselves, there is a tendency for us to romanticize people we admire. And idolize them as a result. This is not about calvinism, puritanism vs. blacks or whatever. This is preaching the Word of God and living true to it by thee power of the Holy Spirit. After all, Paul addressed the issue of idolizing people with the Corinthians. we MUST all be aware of this, whether we are esteeming Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Calvin and whoever.

        We must all be aware of our tendencies and fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone who is our teacher and perfect example. It is very easy for this discussion to go sideways and argue about something that is unimportant. Nobody is perfect, therefore, let us not idolize them as people who were. We do so, and we have the likelihood of deifying them as what happened to Mary the mother of Jesus. No one is immune to that. That is why Hebrews says to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

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  22. Excellent piece. Well written and right on point! New LIFE & REBIRTH is available everyday, & at every breath!

  23. Excellent piece. Well written and right on point. New Life & Rebirth is available everyday, and in every breath!

  24. I wonder if there were only one race would the conversation here look more like, “What can we do to help”?, rather than “Get over it that was the past.” or “Look how you’re still ruining my life.”

    Like it or not, issues that should have been put to rest in the past still surface today, but in more sophisticated and subtle ways giving some the idea that enough’s been done, and others the view that not nearly enough’s been done.

    If we were one race then we could possibly concentrate on solutions rather than claims of absolution and claims ascribing guilt. But somehow the fact of our very distinct differences, and distinct routes to where we are, preclude any meaningful progress as people who help other people to eradicate things like injustice and imbalance of power, finances, and things that make for good living.

    Will we ever see each other as fellow members of the one race we all belong to–the human race?

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  27. “To go as pirates and catch up poor negroes or people of another land, that never forfeited life or liberty, and to make them slaves, and sell them, is one of the worst kinds of thievery in the world …[These] are fitter to be called incarnate devils than Christians.” — Richard Baxter, Puritan: Practical Works

    I’m sure this quote has already made its way around in response — but when a Puritan was engaging in slavery, it was not without rebuke within their own camp. So, at least one Puritan would agree with Props!

  28. Pingback: Precious Puritans « THE DAILY RACE

  29. I agree with Tim W about the time consuming nature. To me, the issue with Prop’s rap and the criticism very simply goes with the claim about the Puritans being chaplains on slave ships. Its a very specific accusation. Dr. Bradley, can you give some more specific information about what Washington writes that verifies this? Or if elsewhere, where it can be found? I think the rap has caused a good discussion, but for me it really hinges on this specific issue. If this is the case, then the critics doth protest too much, IMO.

  30. I am jumping in a bit late into this conversation and I would like to make this disclaimer that while I am not a seasoned theologian, I do appreciate the different points of view. First, Jonathan Martinez, maybe you need to change your approach and your attitude because you really do come off as a troll, your comments lack any validity and seemed to be full of contempt for the author and Propaganda. (Just saying, this might not be the place for that). You are trying to tell us that 400 years of slavery, and centuries of inequality are nullified by what I should presume; The fact that we now have a black president or that blacks are no longer considered slaves. I myself refuse to sit around licking my wounds, but it is attitudes such as yours that infuriates us a nation. You believe that everything is hunky dory and we need to simply stop complain. There are still valid reasons why we voice our dismay within this society. While the chains are no longer physical they are no longer fashioned of hard steel they are now mental chains wielded in other regards such as biased legislations glass ceilings, that we are still overcoming and the corruption of our youth through media (MTV, BET, etc). Before you dismiss what I am saying, take some time and try ‘to wear the shoe on the other foot’ and reverse the roles. What if it were whites that were in the positions of blacks, or if it was the Native Americans who went to Europe and stole the lands from the Caucasians. Would you be so dismissive of these actions? Do you not think there would be a residual effect of centuries of such evil works? Now, here’s the issue, I realize you did not take part in these actions, but your attitude alone leans towards the same path that led to these acts in the first place. You refusal to recognize the impact that those actions have had on an entire generation speaks loudly to attest that point. I am do apologize if this seems harsh but truth may be an offense and harsh bitter medicine to swallow but we must confront these attitudes head-on or they will continue to permeate and linger on.

  31. I’m just a white woman from Ohio, but I loved this song and the whole album. I think these discussions serve to support what this song is about. We’re obviously not past this. Many white people can’t tolerate some difference in culture and style and at least try to understand the context and genre for this song and let it be even if they don’t like it or it makes them uncomfortable. Who appointed them to be the Christian rap police?

    Also, I’m surprised there hasn’t been much mention of the ‘Michaelangelo’s boyfriend’ line. I know when I heard the song I was like, “Oh he went there!”

  32. ” If the pendulum is not corrected widely the other way after such historic atrocities, the social element will remain and the crime will perpetuate.”

    This is my fear – that dreaded pendulum. See, some are not concerned with righting the ship, but with sinking it from the other end. Hence Obama’s “revenge” comment. Why should I as a Christian embrace such goals? By the way, it’s possible that God’s judgement IS on the white race as evidenced by it’s looming extinction.

  33. It seems to me that Propaganda lyrics lift up two Puritan principles: the radical nature of sin, and “ecclesia semper reformanda est” (the church is always to be reformed). His critique reveals his Calvinism.

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  35. Dr. Bradley… .such lucid writing and sharp analysis. Thank you. I did not read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat others….But does not Jesus himself use “over statement” or exaggerated language to get across many of his key points? I still have both my eyes.

    If Propaganda means we should NEVER quote a Puritan or receive wisdom from the same, then I clearly disagree — and I bet Propaganda would too.. On the other hand, Prop’s overstatement clearly draws attention to the fact that these are/were fallible sin stained men, and should not be worshipped, or received uncritically. they have left us a troubled heritage/uneven heritage….And we need to hear through other’s ears. I can receive this message in fullness… and still read and profit from Puritans. Really.

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  37. So unfortunate Mr. Bradley and KA refuses to consider the massive amount of evidence that the song is way off about the Puritans. The Puritans were not southern slaveholders. Many were not involved in the slave trade. Heck, Samuel Sewall wrote a famous anti-slave tract. But, all this gets ignored in this horrible song that re-writes the facts. The Scottish Covenanters were always anti-slavery as well (these became the Reformed Presbyterians in America today). In your fight for liberation theology or some new fancy theology promoting your African heritage, you have to take all white theologians as flawed. Yes, just like everybody is flawed. It’s called original sin. That doesn’t decrease the value of what they have to say. And it is incredibly stupid to waste time pointing to the racism of the past when nearly all were that way hundreds of years ago. Last point here, I am sick and tired of Europeans getting ALL the blame for the slave trade. The fact is, the African tribes bear just as much blame for stealing humans and selling off war captives to the whites. It takes two to tango, but that gets completely ignored by African-American historians out to blame the evil white man.