Smith is reflecting on a racism study in the States in which a group of black and white people have a conversation. The blacks then tell the researchers which of the whites spoke to them as equals, and which were insulting. The white group is divided accordingly. They repeat the exercise , and immediately after the conversation, both of the white groups are given cognitive tests.
What they found was that the group of white people who behaved well towards the black people then performed poorly on the tests, while the obvious racists performed better. But then, when both groups were given the test at a later time, the ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ performed equally well. The theory is that the group of white people who had treated the black people well had used so much mental energy filtering their responses in order to do so, that they had none left with which to take the test. The obvious racists hadn’t modified their behaviour, so they came to the test fresh.
The conclusion is that most white people — even if they appear to behave in non-racist ways — are nonetheless racist.
Now, Martin Smith argues that the veneer of equality that marks the liberal church prevents us from facing the truth and doing the harder work of changing our hearts. We say all people are equal when in fact we believe no such thing, and we lie even to ourselves.
I suspect there is more truth in this than most of us would like to admit. But, I wouldn’t want to condemn the group that worked so hard at conversation that they failed the cognitive tests.
Surely there are times when change involves a choice. And that choice involves deliberate action.
We look at Christ, and learn the infinite worth of each human being. We come to know and believe that all people are equal. But that comes after much in our society that tells us otherwise. Head and heart don’t move all at once. So, when the head is in the lead (which is not always), we behave as the person we are trying to become. We do what believe is right and wish were fully true for us, even if old patterns of sin have not yet been transformed and redeemed. And that takes energy.
I would be hugely encouraged if everyone left church on Sundays totally unable to perform on cognitive tests because they had been working so hard at trying to bear witness to what they were becoming. If we can learn to behave consistently as if we believe something is true, then I suspect the day will come when we find that it has become true for us. Heart and head will match.
But if we continue to behave badly simply because it more honestly reflects our hearts, we may never learn to change at all, and might even confuse our consistency with integrity.