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The Real and Dangerous Crisis of Race in the Evangelical Church

This article is one of the hardest ones I have ever composed and it is not because I don’t believe deeply in the importance of this discussion.  It is because I know a lot of readers will react defensively and negatively. Regular readers know that I am not a political guy. I generally don’t write or talk about politics. My hope is in Christ and not in Washington and I mainly talk about Jesus, Grace, and community. Nonetheless, I must address politics when I see it is dividing the body of Christ. The New York Times wrote an eye opening and heartbreaking article “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers are Leaving White Evangelical Churches”.  According to the article the tipping point was the 2016 election and the lack of support from white leaders and pastors addressing the concerns of people of color.

Many, if not most, white Evangelicals have a gigantic blind spot when it comes to race in America. What is history for me is still personal for my black brothers and sisters. I will speak for myself when I say that I am not as color blind as I once believed. The truth is I was simply blind. Blind to the pain and fear of our black brothers and sisters in Christ. I asked two dear black friends to share what is the most pressing thing on their heart. I put no parameters on what they wrote. These men love Jesus, the Church, and white people. They love me and I love them. What they chose to write about is the political climate in the country and in the church. I can no longer ignore what is hurting people I love.  Please, please, please pray for grace to hear their hearts as you read their words. I am guilty of trying to spin how my black brothers and sisters see our culture but I don’t have the right to redefine their story. I cannot look through the lens of being a person of color in this country. I cannot walk in their shoes. I need to listen and respond in grace and love. Montagne McDonald is the pastor of the historic King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Here is what he wrote.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, KJV)

These days, racial tension is high. In America it appears we are as divided as ever. Police brutality, Confederate monuments, the National Anthem, and our current president and his administration have become very polarizing issues. Differing opinions is nothing new, nor anything we should be overly concerned with. However, there are people with extreme views who add the proverbial fuel to the fire.

Many of these extremists have ethnic or racial nationalism in common. This has become concerning, especially to people of color. Racial nationalism is the ideology that says one’s national identity is based on race. Those who adhere to this way of thinking believes it is wrong for races to mix and have a racially based desire to keep other races out of their country. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, or racial pride. The problem comes when that pride become a source of hate for others who do not share the same ethnicity. I never understood how self-love could turn into racial hate.

In Galatians chapter 3, Paul was explaining to the church that the promise of God is better than the law, because the law is unable to truly change the heart, yet faith does. In verse 28, when Paul says in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, Paul is telling us in Christ we are all equal. We are all valued. That is why there are so many people of color and women who resist this current administration. We do not feel valued. When this president hires Jeff Sessions, who has a history of work against racial equality, we do not feel valued. When President Trump himself has a racist real estate rental history, yet became the 45th president anyway, we do not feel valued. When Trump’s very words have become rallying cries for the Alt-right who carry racial nationalism like a badge, we do not feel valued. These are just a few examples of why we resist Trump.

Nationalism of any kind can be used to divide, rather than unify. For America to heal from it’s past we must cast aside these racist ideologies. No matter what color you are or where you came from, you are valued by God. If God values you, then so do I. I have no time for this ideology of extreme racial nationalism because it only leads to separation and we are in desperate need of unity. To overcome this ideology, we must speak in solidarity against it. We must make our voices heard. We must, like Paul, speak against any way of thinking that holds one race above another. We must openly declare that America is not a white nation, a black nation, or any other ethnicity. We are a nation of diverse people who make up the greatest nation on earth. We are more than the color of our skin.

As Christians we are compelled to believe that but the truth is we cannot be truly color blind. That would deny the culture of my brothers and sisters. But we can, as finance executive Mellody Hobson noted in a popular TED talk, be color indifferent and hopefully color brave. My dear friend Duke Barnett added to Montagne’s words. I would trust Duke with everything and anything in my life. He is one of my most trusted friends. Please hear his words.

I’m angry and deeply saddened by the fact that our country which professes “One Nation Under God”, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”, would have elected a president who promotes racial nationalism, or specifically white nationalism. As you know, I don’t have a problem talking race…for I’ve been married to my wife who is white for 30 years. We’ve raise 3 wonderful kids and have 3 precious grandkids. But the challenge still exists for equality for them. In my opinion, I think the problem with the white nationalists is the world has left them behind and Trump was supposed to be their savior. I don’t espouse to evolution as my way of being, I believe in creation. However, I do believe society has “evolved” since creation. White nationalists however, have not and they will not defeat the work of God. Montagne McDonald hit it on the head…we must openly declare that we are a nation of diverse people, created by God to be his representatives in this world (John 14:14). Our most important job is love (Matt 22:37-39). Therefore, carrying a racist agenda doesn’t align with those commandments. I’m appalled at those who call themselves Evangelical but follow these non-Christian principles like racism! Again, “there is neither Jew or Greek”! The word of is very clear in saying, “by this they will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another”. I’m praying for change of hearts but prayer is not enough! The word tells us to GO and make disciples, not just pray that change happens! I’m willing to work with anyone. But, our communities of color are angry, disappointed, saddened by the narrative that’s being displayed by Trump. We need change!

You may not see the political climate as my brothers see it. For years I pushed back about white privilege because I am just a Hillbilly from Southern Ohio who overcame a family culture that had never valued higher education. But the fact is this Hillbilly can walk through Walmart without the staff watching me suspiciously. This Hillbilly can drive through a wealthy neighborhood without drawing scrutiny from the police. There is still a systemic racial component in our culture. Every black friend I have tells me that is true. So what can I do as a white follower of Jesus? Embrace my black brothers and sisters. Hear their hearts. Stand with them and let them know that our bond in Christ is stronger than any other bond. Racial reconciliation will never happen until the church gets it right. Don’t react from a political point of view.  React as a follower of Jesus who bore the Cross for all colors. The only color that truly matters is red and that is the redeeming blood of Christ. I stand with my black brothers and sisters today. I can’t fully understand their story because I cannot walk in their shoes. But I stand with my brothers and sisters in their desire to follow Jesus and make a difference in our divided culture. In Acts we are challenged as leaders to be shepherds of all people

“Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28, NET)

I want to be used by God to be a part of that solution. Would you join me?