A few weeks ago, I reviewed Andrew Peterson’s beautiful new EP, Resurrection Letters: Prologue. His new full-length album will release on Good Friday, and in advance of that, The Gospel Coalition premiered the video for Peterson’s Revelation 5-inspired song, “Is He Worthy?” Soon thereafter, Peterson found himself treading the stormy waters of woke Christianity. His crime? He ran afoul the Diversity Codes by featuring an all-white cast. In a plot twist that will shock no one, people on Twitter got mad, pointing out the irony of a bunch of white people singing about every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Peterson followed up with a heartfelt apology, and the controversy abated. What are we to make of this episode? Is the video just more evidence of the latent racism of white evangelicalism? Is Peterson’s apology an example of the much-lauded racial reconciliation everyone has been talking about? Did we make progress? I don’t think so.
Andrew Peterson is a good guy, and no one is charging him with outright racism. Even his critics acknowledge his good intentions with the video. I want to acknowledge the same good intentions with his apology. He believes he hurt people—people he cares about—and he genuinely feels bad about it. Fair enough, but he should have refrained from apologizing. Apologies of this sort are weapons, forged to silence dissenters from the new orthodoxy. How can you spot a weaponized apology? First, there is mob outrage. Thankfully, in our dystopian times the mob has moved from the streets to social media, allowing the self-disciplined among us to tune it out, turn it off, and enjoy the fresh air. Second, the mob makes demands. Demands for apologies, demands to make amends, demands for silence. But, third, no actual sin is ever charged. Feelings were hurt and triggered, the tone was bad, or one’s experiences were not adequately taken into due consideration. But a sin, as defined by the Bible, isn’t within three zip codes of the alleged offense. Fourth, a new orthodoxy is established. In this case, all Christian artists have been put on notice: comply with the Diversity Codes or else. Fifth, all dissenters are silenced. The apologizer is often enlisted in this effort as evidenced by the part of Peterson’s apology that calls for his would-be defenders to just be quiet. This essay is my willful disobedience to the decree to remain silent.
The most important part of the above diagnostic for weaponized apologies is the absence of real sin. Of course, if one sins he should apologize for it. If Peterson had refused entry to people of color or even schemed behind the scenes to ensure an all-white cast, he would have been guilty of the sins of racial malice and showing partiality. He would have needed to apologize for that. But that was not the case. Peterson issued an open call for anyone who wanted to a part of his music video to come. The people in the video are those who showed up. Now, can we think of any other explanations for why a bunch of white people showed up for Peterson’s video other than white evangelicalism’s latent racism? I don’t know, maybe the fact that Peterson—the folk-music-playing, blazer-over-tee-shirt-and-jeans-wearing, fantasy-novel-writing singer/songwriter who named his creative club after the room in a pub where the Inklings met—is the incarnate version of the old blog, Stuff White People Like. He probably likes Friends and baked kale, too. It is simply not surprising that a group of white people showed up for his video shoot. Would it have been a better, more powerful video had the cast been more ethnically diverse, especially in light of the Revelation 5 context of the song? Sure. But was it sin to shoot with the folks who showed up? Absolutely not. Yet, some advocated for Peterson to reshoot the video, referring to it as repentance and restitution. Repentance for what? Restitution for what? What sin? Be specific. Peterson can reshoot it if he wants to, but let’s not call it an act of repentance. To do so would actually be an act of bearing false witness, of naming something as sin that is not sin.
The most egregious aspect of this controversy is exegetical. Revelation 5:9 does present a beautiful picture of the diversity of the kingdom of God. When the church of God gathers around His eternal throne there will be men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. This fact should cause much joy. But Revelation 5:9 is not primarily about diversity. It is about Jesus. He is the one worthy to take the scroll and break its seals, for He is the one who was slain. The verse and the song are about Jesus, not the people in the pews or the choir. To reduce this great scene in John’s Revelation to a diversity lecture is to entirely miss the point. It introduces divisive identitarian politics into the heavenly vision and subverts the unity so many purport to champion.
Andrew Peterson wrote and performed a beautiful song about Jesus, but no one is talking about Jesus. We are too sensitive for that. We’d rather mimic the world’s power plays and tsk tsk our brothers than to say “Amen” and fall down with the twenty-four elders and worship.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article cited a specific tweet referring to a video reshoot as repentance and restitution. She believes that tweet was pulled out of the context of her broader views on the issue, and its use in the larger context of this article misrepresented her views. So, in the interests of good will and fairness, I decided to remove the tweet and her name. I think the larger point still stands.