When I first began investigating his view of men and women, I was actually surprised by how vehemently I disagreed with not only his perspective but also his tone in the debate. After reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (and blogging about it), I found myself quite angry with Piper. That was nearly three years ago. To say I was holding a grudge would probably be accurate.
I don't think I really let go of this grudge until I read the preview of his new book, Bloodlines, that came out at the beginning of Fall 2011. In it, he owned up to a racist upbringing, culturally and spiritually. He spoke of how he believed that interracial marriage was unbiblical because that was what he had been taught. During his time at Fuller Seminary, he finally investigated the matter fully and realized that he had been wrong to ascribe disobedience, sin, or brokenness to interracial couples and families.
When I read this, I was honestly a bit shocked. I grew up in Georgia and know many people who still believe that interracial marriage is wrong, so you might not think I'd be surprised. But for some reason I was. In that moment, I think I removed John Piper from the artificial pedestal I had placed him on many years ago, a pedestal that certainly contributed to why I had held such a grudge against him, and I realized that, in many ways, he is more like the people I have known for a long time: my grandparents, the kind, older church ladies who baked casseroles, the Southern men who held the door open for me and called me Sweetheart as a child. He's just a person, just like me, just like the thousands of other people I know in life.
Overcoming personal racism is hard, and I commend him for his now-public words of repentance. I know many people who have never seen the sin in their racism and it grieves my heart. So the fact that he has seen this sin and is calling people out on it makes me show him a little grace. He has made steps many of the godly men and women I know in real life have never made.
If his starting point was truly in a world were interracial families were viewed as unbiblical, for some reason that makes me understand why he's still in a world where men should lead and women should help men be leaders. I don't agree with him, but I don't just see him as a stubborn, misogynistic man anymore. I see him as someone who is holding tightly to his view of gender roles because he has already given up a lot of ground that his spiritual fathers claimed to be true. It's hard to turn your back on your heritage, and he already has in one significant way.
Because of one strongly-opinionated grandfather in particular, I have a soft spot for old, racist people. I have known a lot of them in life. And even though he's no longer touting racist theology, I understand that Piper's background is similar to theirs. And so I show him grace, just as I try to show them grace when they talk about "Orientals." Oh, how I have to try! But understanding where they all started from helps a lot.
(To be honest, this is probably ageist. I'm willing to admit it. The younger you are, the more perturbed I am by racially-charged comments. I have a feeling when I'm an older person I'll look back on this post and realize how patronizing I sound toward those advanced in age. Now that I've written it all out, I think John Piper would probably be horribly offended that I lumped him in with people from whom I obviously expect very little in terms of self-awareness and repentance. But in truth, it helps me to love them to realize where they started from, and that is what I was trying to get at. I'm just going to publish this anyway and brace myself for some harsh comments. I think those comments might even help me as I continue to process.)