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The Caging of America’s Conscience: A War for Moral Authority

Why is anyone who opposes progressivism in the form of identity politics called a racist, sexist, or homophobe today? More importantly, why are these labels so effective in influencing the thoughts and behaviors of seemingly good, independent-thinking individuals? How has a Marxist movement like Black Lives Matter been able to get white people—even conservatives—to bow at its feet (sometimes literally)? How have LGBT activists been able to redefine an institution as historically, religiously, and culturally fundamental to human sexual identity as marriage? How have feminist groups, such as Planned Parenthood, been able to convince so many Americans that killing millions of unborn babies every year is perfectly acceptable in a civilized society?

I could provide many answers to how this progressive agenda across all identity groups has been activated and fueled through our anemic education system, a glorified entertainment industry with its mind-numbing effects on celebrity worshippers, and abandonment of biblical principles, not only in our personal lives, but in our churches, as Christians continually fail to engage the culture for God’s glory. Instead, I want to hone in on one element that is at the heart of this nationwide conquest of the conscience—and that’s exactly what it is: the enslavement of our consciences to an authoritative force that is empowered by nothing less than admitted guilt. I want to focus on moral authority and what that means for our society.

Nature of Moral Authority

In this article, I’ll focus on race to save space, though this explanation of America’s caged conscience in the battle for moral authority applies to all forms of identity politics within the culture war. Let me begin by explaining what I mean by moral authority. When we talk about someone or something (an institution, group, or a nation) having “moral authority” in a civil context, we’re referring to moral principles and metaphysical truths (usually religious) that are infused into the laws, ideals, and beliefs of a particular society. Those with moral authority have legitimacy, social status, respect, influence in society, and political power. Whenever a group or individual is said to have moral authority, it means they are the gatekeepers of moral truth and, therefore, hold sway over the consciences of others.

Let’s take the concept of personal responsibility—a fundamental moral truth that our society has valued since its founding. It is part of the American ethos—the heart and soul of Americanism—to be personally responsible. It’s out of this ability to be accountable for yourself—for your own hard work, personal circumstances, and abilities with no “caste” or class system defining you—that you are free.

Until the sixties, this need for personal responsibility was ingrained in our national conscience—that if we want to succeed, if we want to maintain our liberty, and if we want to be respected as hard-working citizens, we must be responsible. This principle was integral to our national makeup throughout our history—until the sixties. Schools, businesses, government policies, churches—all functioned on the basis of individual responsibility. If you succeeded, it was because you used your liberty to work hard. If you failed, you had to own it and not blame anyone else. Most people of previous generations understood this connection between liberty and personal responsibility, and I don’t even need to quote our founding fathers. From Sigmund Freud to liberal darling Eleanor Roosevelt—this pairing was a fundamental truth.

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. (Freud)
Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect. (Roosevelt)

Of course, Ronald Reagan probably had one of the best quotes on the topic: “With freedom goes responsibility, a responsibility that can only be met by the individual himself.”

This is what our country, no matter your political persuasion, once believed. It—among other values—was part of the moral code, and those who held to it had moral authority in the civil society.

Loss of Moral Authority

That’s how it used to be, but something changed. This moral authority, which included personal responsibility, was held by a nation that wasn’t perfect. It had a glaring flaw that contradicted its very value of liberty: slavery and a culture of racism that lasted for decades even after we freed the slaves. This racism was ingrained in our laws, as blacks were treated less than human and denied equal rights that our founders said were given to every human being by God.

Of course, we know that many of our founders, Thomas Jefferson among the most pronounced, believed these rights should be extended to blacks. This, he found, was only logical and moral, and so he wrote the Declaration of Independence in such a way as to establish the groundwork for the future freedom of the slaves, a battle he once tried to wage in Virginia but was unable to pursue because the revolutionary war was using all political capital available to keep English tyranny at bay. But the foundation was there—something Abraham Lincoln recognized and praised Jefferson for in his “Tribute to Jefferson” in which he recognized that the “principles of Jefferson” regarding liberty for all were what really defined the nation.

After the Civil War, many were disenchanted about the moral authority and legitimacy of a nation that had set aside such liberty for the enslavement of some. They said Jefferson’s principles of liberty were simply “glittering generalities” that meant nothing or “self-evident lies” that applied only to “superior races.” With depth of insight, Lincoln recognized that these attacks on America’s founding principles of liberty (and the responsibility that goes with it) were the insidious efforts of those who sought to take America back to European authoritarianism.

These expressions [calling America’s founding principles “self-evident lies” and such], differing in form, are identical in object and effect—the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They could delight a convocation of crowned heads plotting against the people. They are the vanguard, the miners and sappers of returning despotism. We must repulse them or they will subjugate us.

Instead of using America’s history of slavery to attack its principles of liberty and its very founding, Lincoln pegged the rascals for who they were—those who loved power. He called them out and praised Jefferson for the purity of his principles even as they were impurely executed. They weren’t something to be abandoned, but something to hold onto despite the failures of those who instituted them. Lincoln continued:

All honor to Jefferson—to the man, who in the concrete presence of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and sagacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there that today and in all coming days it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.

It’s important to keep Lincoln’s words in mind as I explain the loss of America’s moral authority—or, to be more specific, “white America’s” loss of moral authority, for that is how America is historically perceived—as a “white nation,” founded by white men, who abused their power and lost all legitimacy not only for themselves but for the nation they established. This is why you hear progressives say that America must be transformed from how it was founded because it is flawed, broken, hypocritical, built, not on self-evident truths that bind the consciences of all people, but on self-evident lies that were used to bind the bodies of blacks.

When America—during the Civil Rights movement—admitted its errors as a nation, in the form of remaking laws and realigning national perceptions regarding race, it lost its moral authority in the eyes of those who had been disenfranchised by white America. This loss is similar to a pastor who preaches on sexual purity admitting that he has committed adultery. He loses moral authority, even if he has repented of his sin. He is delegitimized and loses all power to influence and inform the consciences of others by speaking a moral truth.

Black Power and Moral Authority

In America, whites and the institutions that they made—which comprise the nation itself—lost all moral authority with its admission of racism. This “white guilt” was placed on all whites, whether they owned slaves or not, whether they had ever been a racist themselves, or whether they felt guilty or not. They were part of white America and therefore had no right to speak on issues that the black community was facing. They had no legitimacy, no power, and no moral authority to hold blacks to account for anything.

Blacks saw this guilt as a profound opportunity to gain political power. Because past slavery and racism now removed all moral authority from whites (and the nation they built), that moral authority now existed in a vacuum. And so someone had to take it. Would it be blacks who thought like Lincoln and forgave whites for the sins of slavery and racism but didn’t define them by it or remove all legitimacy from the nation and from whites because of it? Would it be those who looked to God as THE moral authority and that America, however imperfect, was under his authority, not flawed whites, and his principles of liberty and personal responsibility remained in force for every individual, no matter how flawed political leaders were?

Again, to use the analogy of the pastor caught in adultery. Would the vacuum of moral authority be filled by those who forgive the repentant pastor, still attend the church he built, and uphold God’s moral authority as being the Source that informs consciences, or would it be someone else? Would it be those who see this as an opportunity to gain power, to destroy the church, to reject the very principles the church taught no matter how fundamental and God-given, and to establish a new morality that binds the consciences of those they now have power over?

To return to applying this to racism and white guilt, will the vacuum of moral authority be filled by the victims of white racism to establish their own legitimacy and power and to overturn the nation as founded by blaming others for their failings and, thereby, establishing a new morality—one built not on liberty but on equality of outcomes? Will those driven by grace and subjection to God’s moral authority fill the vacuum or will those driven by despotism fill it and thus cage the consciences of all who respect the nation as founded with its principles of liberty?

As we’ve seen, it has been the latter who has stepped into that vacuum, and they’ve done it because whites have allowed the guilt of past racism—white guilt—to delegitimize them and the nation they built. No one explains this better than Shelby Steele (a black intellectual) in his book “White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.”

Because white guilt is a vacuum of moral authority, it makes the moral authority of whites and the legitimacy of American institutions contingent on proving a negative: that they are not racist. The great power of white guilt comes from the fact that it functions by stigma, like racism itself. Whites and American institutions are stigmatized as racist until they prove otherwise. Stigma is behind the now clichéd white disclaimer: “Some of my best friends are…,” which is a way of saying, “I might be white, but I am not a racist, because I have friends who are black.” Whites know on some level that they are stigmatized by their skin color alone, that the black people they meet may suspect them of being racist simply because they are white. And American institutions, from political parties and corporations to art museums and private schools, not only declare their devotion to diversity but also use racial preferences to increase the visibility of minorities so as to refute the racist stigma. Surely genuine goodwill may also be a part of such efforts. But the larger reality is that white guilt leaves no room for moral choice; it does not depend on the goodwill or the genuine decency of people. It depends on their fear of stigmatization, their fear of being called a racist. Thus, white guilt is nothing less than a social imperative that all whites, from far-left socialists to Republican presidents, are accountable to.

The new morality that is the code for those who have moral authority today—and thus have the power to inform and dictate the consciences of whites and those who still think America as founded is legitimate—is a social morality. It is social justice. It’s righting “all the wrongs of the past.” It’s reparations, equality of outcomes, admission of white privilege, kneeling during the national anthem, and equal rights amendments to establish equity of conditions. Any opposition to this new morality is a sin and must be punished. Any talk of blacks needing to be personally responsible and not blaming whites for disparities in the justice system, education, economics, or politics is heresy and must be repented of or, again, you’ll be punished with social isolation, attacks, stigmatization, and canceling. Steele elaborates:

Suddenly in American life the matter of responsibility was qualified by a new social morality. If you were black, and thus a victim of racial oppression, this new morality of social justice meant you could not be expected to carry the same responsibilities as others. The point was that the American society no longer had the moral authority to enforce a single standard of responsibility for everyone because—by its own admission—it had not treated everyone the same.

Steele describes how he felt when he, as a young civil rights activist, realized he had gained this moral authority and power. He was in church and witnessed his ability to use white guilt to get what he wanted:

Standing there in that church I realized that no one—least of all the government—had the moral authority to tell me to be responsible for much of anything. And this realization, blooming in the mind of a twenty-one-year-old after a hard day’s work, was like winning my own private revolution. I could hardly stand still.

He—and others like him—saw how the former oppression by whites in a totalitarian state (which is what America was for blacks) was an opportunity now for power.

Up to this point I, like my father before me, had lived like a citizen in a totalitarian state. But what happens when an authority that was totalitarian—against which you had no recourse—admits that it was wrong, that it violated and dehumanized you? For one thing, you lose a degree of fear. I knew, of course, that America was going to continue holding blacks accountable to its basic laws. But I also felt a new fearlessness in showing my disdain for whatever the country might hold me accountable to. Not only was this totalitarian power broken, but now I was the one—as a victim—who possessed an almost reckless moral authority. Now I could shame and silence whites at will. With this moral authority there was the power to better defend myself against racism, but there was also a new, abusive power very similar to the abusive power that had been wielded against me—a power of racial privilege deriving solely from the color of my skin. This power to shame, silence, and muscle concessions from the larger society on the basis of past victimization became the new “black power.... This great infusion of moral authority gave blacks the power to imprint the national consciousness with a profound new edict, an unwritten law more enforceable than many actual laws: that no black problem—whether high crime rates, poor academic performance, or high illegitimacy rates—could be defined as largely a black responsibility, because it was an injustice to make victims responsible for their own problems. To do so would be to “blame the victim,” thereby repeating his victimization. Thus, in the national consciousness after the sixties, individual responsibility became synonymous with injustice when applied to blacks.

Steele goes on to explain how the “black power” blacks had divorced responsibility from freedom and why they could not allow America to continue as founded, how they couldn’t be like other blacks (as Steele would become later in life) who accepted their responsibility and did not seek to delegitimize the nation that secured liberty for all—albeit belatedly.

How could a people that has survived centuries of slavery and segregation—through ingenuity, imagination, and great courage—get this confused, this alienated from man’s most elemental power: responsibility? Because freedom scared the hell out of us—our first true fall, our first true loss of innocence—and because there was nothing less than a locomotive of white guilt coming our way and hungering to prop us up in our every illusion. White guilt has wanted nothing more than to confuse our relationship to responsibility, to have us feel responsibility as an injustice, a continuation of our oppression. It exploited our terror of freedom in precisely the same way that plantation owners once exploited our labor. Whites needed responsibility for our problems in order to gain their own moral authority and legitimacy. So they set about—once again—to exploit us, to encourage and even nurture our illusions, to steal responsibility from us, to take advantage of our backwardness just as slave traders had once done on the west coast of Africa. Suddenly, in the age of white guilt, we were gold again.

White Guilt and Moral Authority

The sixties heaped a load of shame on America for a host of crimes—racism, sexism, homophobia, financial greed, and materialism. Americans—and particularly white Americans because they were the founders—lost all moral authority to say anything to anyone. Of course, such a loss is intolerable, as it is for anyone who has been delegitimized and dehumanized, their voices silenced, and their livelihoods threatened if they spoke out against those who held moral authority. Ask the black community, for it had been delegitimized and dehumanized with slavery and racism. The natural response is to regain legitimization and human dignity—no matter what it takes.

This is what you see going on with whites, but you see it in different ways. Whites want to regain their legitimacy by faithfully adhering to the new moral code and obeying those in authority. They’re told to give up their positions of authority to a person of color. Their response: “Absolutely!” They’re told they’re privileged. They agree. It makes them feel better. It’s their repentance. It’s their salvation. They’re legitimate again. They’re told to support Black Lives Matter. Yes! And they’ll wear a T-shirt too, even wash the feet of a black person. They’re told to vote for a black candidate or at least a person of some color. Of course they will; to do anything else, to vote for the white guy, is racist. They can’t do that. It would be a sin against the social morality.

Like Steele said, white guilt is an opportunity for whites to feel empowered again, and so they’re using blacks to regain it. Whites who bow to Black Lives Matter don’t really care about black people—they adhere themselves to the movement to regain what they’ve lost—moral authority, legitimacy, feeling good about themselves, and basking in the glow of others thinking they’re respectable people.

Another group deals with the loss of moral authority in a completely different way. They respond with defiance and rage. They see what’s going on as a race war, and one in which whites must take back their moral authority. These are the rising new racists, matching black power with white power. They’re angry. They want to return to the glory days of whites in control, even if those days were riddled with the sin of slavery and racism. They’ll even deny America’s racist history, refusing to admit its past sins either because they have become so angry that they have deluded themselves or they don’t want to further empower black power by more admissions of past racial sins.

Despite their correct perception about what’s really driving racial tensions today, they seek solutions in race dynamics, rallying whites to the cause in the name of whiteness. Some don’t go so far as to see themselves as superior to blacks, but their actions are driving them there. The battle is whites against blacks for moral authority, and they don’t care if they become racists in the process. Unfortunately, the more black power pushes against whites by labeling them racists merely because they don’t comply with the black power agenda, the more whites will be herded into this group. The result is a white backlash as the falsely accused become the racists they’ve been labeled to be.

Another group takes a different route that might look similar to this group in some respects on the surface but their motivations and goals are different. They’re not racists and they’re not fighting for liberty in the context of “saving whiteness.” Despite this, those fighting for black power would make you think all whites who aren’t in the first group are members of the second. You’re either repentant racist sinners obeying the new social morality and obeying your new black masters and their white puppets or you’re a racist, a white supremacist who wants white domination like the “good ole days.”

A Better Way: God’s Moral Authority

Thankfully, this is a lie. There’s a third group, and this group is not only made up of whites, but also of blacks, like Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, and other people of color who see through the black power movement and its revolutionary grasp to be the ruling moral authority that defines America today. This is the group that neither ignores America’s racist past nor lets America be delegitimized because of it.

I’m including myself here, so I’m going to say we from this point on. We don’t want a race war. We don’t see the conflict as essentially between whites and blacks, but between those who want power, no matter what side they’re on. It’s about tyranny, not justice. We reject blacks who use white guilt to empower themselves and establish a new social morality. We reject whites who strive to regain social power and legitimacy by kowtowing to black power under the weight of white guilt. And we reject whites who have set themselves in opposition to black power in the name of white power.

Instead, we want our society’s moral authority to be rooted in the Source of that authority—in God, in the principles of liberty that he established, and in the objective values that made our nation great and served as the foundation of our nation’s success. We recognize that whites failed in the past, adopting their own “social morality” that included slavery, but we know that this didn’t stain America as founded. Jefferson’s principles of liberty weren’t self-evident lies. They were self-evident truths that not everyone obeyed. We don’t want to return to the “good ole days.” We want to return to the “ancient paths” of wisdom so our future will be even better and brighter, retaining the good of the old days and discarding the bad.

We want God’s morality to bind our consciences, not a social morality born out of bitterness and pride based on the color of one’s skin, sexual identity, or gender. We want freedom and equality before the law to be foundational to our social construct, not libertinism and equality of outcomes. Like Lincoln, we see that it’s possible to admit past mistakes without abandoning our moral authority—because that authority doesn’t come from us. It’s not about our power. It’s about our obedience to God. It’s not about social justice. It’s about God’s justice. It’s not about equality with others and getting what they have. It’s about being made in the image of God and how that creates both unity and diversity. It’s not about treating people as a collective and imposing guilt simply by being part of a group. It’s about respecting individuals and personal guilt alone. It’s not about reparations and payback. It’s fundamentally about forgiveness.

Sadly, I think this last group is becoming a fading voice as the clashing sounds of battle silence them. Today, of course, I think the war is tipping in favor of those imposing black power, LGBT power, and feminist power—the triad of identity politics and intersectionalism. This trinity of evil is winning the day as its high priests and priestesses in politics, education, the medical community, and the entertainment industry are spreading the gospel of social justice, using white guilt, straight guilt, and male guilt to bind the consciences of free people. Too many whites, straights, and men are clamoring to redeem themselves through repentance and compliance with the new moral code, stripping themselves and our society of its liberty, personal responsibility, diversity, and true equality.

Those of us who see it happening must remain strong even if we’re a remnant. We must fight the enemies of God’s principles—those who defy HIS moral authority. We must, as Lincoln said, “repulse them or they will subjugate us.” This is the real culture war—refusing to become a part of one army or the other, but standing fast in the army of God, fighting for his truth to prevail and for America to glorify him, as our nation failed to do in the past and as it’s failing to do in the present. We might still lose our nation. We might lose our freedom. But we will never lose our souls.

This article was originally published at Romans One, and is reposted with permission from the author, Denise McAllister.

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