Why We’re Still Talking About Racism…in the Church

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In 1995, Southern Baptist officials formally renounced the church’s support of slavery and segregation. The institution of slavery in America, which Baptists in the south desired to maintain against the desires of the Baptists in the north, led to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. It was also this view of race that led Southern Baptists to oppose the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. However, this wasn’t just a reality among Baptists; this was true of Methodists and Presbyterians who experienced splits for the same reason in 1844 and 1861 respectively. In 2000, Methodists offered a public confession of guilt and renunciation of slavery at their annual General Conference. In June 2015, the Presbyterian Church of America offered its public confession of guilt concerning slavery and segregation at its 43rd General Assembly.

Some might be surprised to think that such confessions were necessary in light of what the Bible teaches about man. Regarding creation and value, the Bible teaches us about the dignity of all mankind from every nation stemming from being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26). Regarding our moral state, the Bible teaches us about our sinfulness and the universality of sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23). Regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, the Bible teaches us the impartial atoning work of Christ which unites man to God and to one another (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 2:11-22). Regarding eternity, the Bible teaches us about the multi-ethnic eschatological reality that awaits God’s people (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). These are basic truths that should serve as a simple framework for how we view our fellow man. However, we are not yet perfected and comments made by well respected Christian apologist and debater, James White, served as a great reminder of this truth.

The Incident

On March 17, 2016, after White witnessed irresponsible and disrespectful behavior by a young black teen, he made several unjustified assertions about the teen’s upbringing and future based on his skin color and his present actions. His assertions were initially posted on his social media accounts, which he has now removed. You may listen to a summary of the issue here. The initial response from the African-American Christian community, including me, was of utter disbelief, and I think rightly so for at least two reasons. The first reason is that White’s assertions were hasty generalizations steeped in racist thought. After witnessing the teen’s behavior, White intentionally made it known that the teen was black and then stated assertions about the possibility of a lack of a father in the home, having children out of wedlock by different women and having multiple abortions. In a matter of a few seconds of observation White wrote this young man’s narrative based on statistics. Is this not hasty and unfair judgment? The second reason for disbelief is that much more is expected from him as a Christian, especially one so well acquainted with the Scriptures. There was no compassion or grace in White’s words.

Confronting White & His Response

As expected, White was publicly confronted by several African-American Christians. One confrontation I witnessed was thoughtful, yet direct. It reminded me that no Christian is above scrutiny and confrontation despite how influential he/she may be. Galatians 2:11-14 reminds us that believers may confront one another when the gospel is being compromised. White’s comments were out of step with the gospel because they were racist and judgmental and he deserved to be confronted. White was offered a chance to dialogue and learn about African-American culture and systemic injustice (not that systemic injustices caused the teen’s behavior). White’s response to the offer is what I found most disheartening. White dismissed his brother who confronted him and then charged him with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism is a form of gnosticism that states that those of a certain ethnicity can claim to have an experience or knowledge within it that those of another ethnicity cannot understand or have. In other words, one culture cannot fully understand the struggles of another culture simply because it is a different culture. White objects to this position and instead holds to the fact that all humans have the shared experience of sin. While I agree with White fundamentally – all humans are sinners, I disagree because every culture doesn’t experience the same effects of the common human sin problem. White’s arrogant unjustified comments and his dismissal of an approach for honest dialogue with a fellow Christian, who happens to be African-American, seems to be evidence of blindness to his own racism and paternalistic perspective. In addition, White addressed the issue via podcast in which he adamantly defended his position without the slightest hint of conceding to possible error.  His response is exactly the kind of behavior that reinforces the existing racial tension rather than relieve it.  I pray the LORD reveal the error of his thinking and his response and he would publicly repent.

Confronting Racism in the Church

Unfortunately, White’s response is far more common in the church than I’d like to admit. While strides are being made to address racism, it still needs to be addressed with much more frequency and comprehensiveness. If we are going to accurately reflect the gospel and its implications, namely the glory of Christ, racism must be confronted in the church. Apathy, aversion, dismissal and silence only further perpetuates the problem. Public confessions and conferences are good starts, but more must be done at the local church level starting in the hearts of pastors/elders as a church rises no higher than its leaders.  As long as comments like White’s are stated, we will still talk about racism in the church.

For my brothers and sisters in the majority culture, if you’re not quite sure how to address racism, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Understand the definition and nature of racism.
  2. Understand what the Bible has said about man.
  3. Understand that your perspective of race is not all there is. 
  4. Have believers of other ethnicities in your home.
  5. Have non-believers of other ethnicities in your home.
  6. Be willing to learn from people in minority cultures.
  7. Ask questions; don’t assume.
  8. Educate yourself about the history of racism and segregation in America.
  9. Educate yourself about the history of racism and segregation in the church.
  10. Have more than that 1 black friend. 🙂
  11. Pray for the LORD to reveal possible racism in your own heart.

Recommended Reading

Grace & Peace,

d.

*image courtesy of theworkofthepeople.com
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Ethnicity, Sin & the Gospel

Over the last year, America has witnessed and experienced, what I believe to be racially charged acts of violence, even murder, against African Americans.  Consider Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the shooting in South Carolina, the McKinney, TX pool party incident, the young lady who was assaulted and was dragged out of class in Charleston, SC, and LaQuan McDonald.  Most of the acts of violence were done by law enforcement.  I’ve heard both sides of the argument whereby each party was to blame. It’s a never ending argument despite evidence captured on camera. There’s also the argument of individual racism vs. systemic/structural racism.

Like many black men in America, I’ve had to process all of this and sort through many thoughts and emotions. I’ve even wondered how law enforcement sees me as we drive past each other.  I’ve been angry and I’ve been sad.  I think some of my anger has been just as I see injustice and murder occurring before my very eyes. I’ve been sad because peoples’ lives have been unnecessarily taken from them through unrestrained violence.  In many ways, it feels like the Civil Rights Movement all over again.

As a Christian black man, I’ve had to process and sort through many thoughts and emotions through the word of God.  I’ve had to fight the tendency to think all white people see themselves as superior and blacks as inferior.  I’ve had to fight the anger I’ve felt when our side of the narrative was being dismissed or when we’re charged with “not getting over it [racism]”.  In other words, I’ve had to fight being partial to my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Clear biblical thinking is paramount in times like these.  Clear biblical thinking must take into account that all men of every hue are sinners and sin manifests in myriads of ways. Specifically, the sin of racism entered the world in Genesis 3. It is nothing new.  As a Christian, I’ve also been compelled to examine my own heart and actions to make sure I’m not adding to the racism narrative.  Clear biblical thinking compels me to love my fellow man in the faith of every hue. Clear biblical thinking compels me love my fellow man of creation of every hue, even those who do evil, because I’ve been so dearly loved by God and because all men are created in His image (Genesis 1:26).  Clear biblical thinking also compels me to speak of the One who shed His blood for the sins of man He created from every tribe, tongue and nation (Acts 17: 26-28, Revelation 5:9; 7:9) and united in Himself as one new man (Ephesians 2:11-22), the Christian, and the church is called to display His particular glory of ethnic unity now and for eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Truly, the gospel is the only remedy for racial reconciliation and it is my firm conviction that pastors lead out personally and corporately in the fight against racism.

This past October, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisvlle, KY) hosted their annual Expositors Summit Conference and Preconference.  One of the preconference speakers, Curtis Woods, offered some great insights concerning pastoring and the changing ethnic demographics happening in America. Please give his talk a listen and be challenged and encouraged!

Grace & Peace,

d.

(Picture is courtesy of The District Church)

 

The Gospel & Ethnic Reconciliation

Concerning the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and likely several hundred other unreported cases surrounding the sinful treatment of black males, many of us wonder if ethnicity was the motivating factor for police brutality or the overuse of their authority or the lack of justice at the court level. Given the history of systemic racism, which truly is a product of personal racism, it’s hard not to think this way when we look at the disproportionate number of the arrests and imprisonments between young white males and young black males for relatively the same crimes. While I am all for punitive requirements being met for all criminals, it does seem like the scales unjustly lean a little lower on “our” side. Print So what are we to do? How do we, as Christians, deal with the issue of personal prejudice or racism and dare I say ethnocentricity? We all know that no law passed at the city, state and national levels will ever rid man of the sin in the unseen recesses of his heart. Since racism is a sin, the only remedy for it, as with all sin, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. First, I encourage my white brothers and sisters to take a humble posture of heart and listen to the minority narrative. I guarantee it will be worth your time. Secondly, I urge my black brothers and sisters continue to deepen your roots in the sweet soil of the gospel of grace to prevent responding to sin sinfully. For we all are not without sin ourselves.

From the first book of the Bible, but certainly not the only place, we understand that mankind (man & woman) was created in the image of God (imago dei) and therefore has inherent dignity. This very truth was the truth that under-girded the Abolitionist Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Slogans like “Ain’t I a Man?” and “I Am a Man!” were birthed in these movements respectively.

Genesis 1:27 says –

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Iamaman

However, when biblical truth is silenced, even hated, in the public square, what can Christians do? What ought Christians to do regarding racial reconciliation?

Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) held a leadership summit in Nashville to address the topic of racial reconciliation, primarily in the church. Now if you’re familiar with the SBC, this might seem like a shocker. If you’re not familiar with the SBC, let me give you a quick historical overview. The SBC was started due to its desire that slavery be a lasting institution in America. Baptists in the south disagreed with and split from Baptists in the north for this very reason and formed the SBC. Even though the SBC issued a public apology and a confession of sin in 1995, many still look at the SBC with disdain. Some may wonder why any African American would join an SBC church. In fact, many black Baptist denominations were founded and formed because of this very reason and still exist today.

Perhaps you’re wondering how professing white Christians during these times could maintain such a low view of  the black man in light of the Bible’s teaching on the dignity of all mankind. I wonder the same thing too. But the pull of sin and the pressures of our culture have us all unfaithful at times, right? However, in an effort to sincerely glorify the wisdom of God in the gospel, the SBC is seeking to make strides to show forth the fruit of the gospel regarding this issue because only the church has the ultimate lasting cure for racism.

Since the church is the only institution that has the ultimate lasting cure, it should be the leader reflecting unity in diversity where there is a collection of ethnicities in a concentrated area.  Imagine the effect the church would have on the surrounding culture if it lived out the implications of the gospel in this way.

In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul details how the gospel has united Jew and Gentile to be one new man – the Christian (Ephesians 2:11-22). While their God given ethnicities were not done away with, their ultimate identities were now Christian. The same is true for believers of every hue. In light of this truth, how are we seeking to show forth the fruit of the gospel regarding racial reconciliation? What are some practical implications of the gospel concerning racial reconciliation? I can think of a few. Consider these.

1. What does our closest circle of friends look like?

2. Are we seeking to build relationships with Christians of different ethnicities?

3. Are we sharing the gospel with people who are ethnically different than we are?

4. When was the last time we had a person of a different ethnicity in our home?

5. How do we really feel about white people? Or any non-African American?

6. Do our churches reflect the diversity of the community it’s in? Or is it a mono-ethnic church?

7. If my church isn’t multi-ethnic, is it making strides to become one, if possible?

Consider this passage from Revelation 7-

9 After this I (John) looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Who is standing before the throne of God and the Lamb? God’s people from every nation, tribe, people and languages!  God’s eternal covenant community is multi-ethnic! This future reality is to be displayed here on earth in local churches when possible.

church-segregation

If you have some time, consider looking at the talks given by several members of the SBC addressing how the gospel cures racism and why Sunday at 11am should not be the most segregated hour in America.

The Gospel and Ethnic Reconciliation

For His glory,

d.