Updated: Jun 5, 2020
There’s a strange dichotomy in the evangelical Christian church in the U.S. Most Americans recognize racism is still at-large and realize it's wrong. In fact, a 2018 NBC News poll states that 64% of Americans still consider racism a major problem in our country. Yet, most evangelical churches in the U.S. don't address it from the pulpit.
But why? I recently polled people of color, asking them how racism has affected their lives. I interviewed 35 individuals in seven days, allowing each to share their experiences.
One Pastor stated he believes the Church (the larger, corporate, more global church) has a huge responsibility in addressing race relations. But he doesn’t dare take it on because: 1) he’s lost on where to start and 2) it’s too divisive a topic; he feels like he’d be navigating through a "minefield," if he said the wrong thing, it would "implode."
This was one of the most sobering statements I heard. Because the day the Church decides not to voice the heart of God, is the day it stops being the Church. So why does the Church, who widely describes itself as, "the moral compass," shy away from speaking against racism?
If there was any message, I’d like to send to ministry leadership it’s to wake up to this issue. Racism didn’t die with the desegregation of schools (1954) or the end of Jim Crow laws (1964). There isn’t a person of color that I interviewed that didn’t have an example to share. It’s our sad truth, still today (2020).
As leaders in the Church, we need to call racism what it is – hate.
And lock arms to fight the real enemy – the one who uses this
cowardly tool to wage war against God’s precious people.
1 PETER 5:8 calls us to, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” (NIV). Most Christian leaders consider themselves to be shepherds. And shepherds have a duty to protect their flock.
In 1 Samuel 17:34-35, David says to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it” (NIV).
That’s the leadership we need. David excelled as a shepherd. He protected the sheep in his care, defeated the giant and was crowned king. He was vigilant and didn’t take a passive approach with the enemy.
Step up and condemn hate or stand by and condone it. It's that simple.
My family has had many interactions with hate. For instance, at 13-years-old my black son had a classmate get in his face and spew a hateful comment that ended with the "N" word while his "friends" stood by and watched.
My kids were first introduced to the "N" word at ages 4 and 5...at church. When we approached the Children's Pastor, we were told “not to take it personally...they were just kids...we know their heart...it was a joke...and we needed to forgive.” The other kids and their families were told - nothing.
One of my closest friends (an amazing black woman & U.S. veteran) also had a racist encounter, at this church. This time it was with an adult but she was given the same speech by leadership...the other woman was “a good person...we know her heart...don't take it too seriously...it was a joke”...my friend needed to forgive. This other woman was told- nothing.
When her dignity didn't allow her to skim over it, when she so desperately wanted to be treated with the same courtesy and respect as others, she was scolded and accused of not "getting over it" by leadership. They asked her to step down from a volunteer post she poured her heart into and quite frankly, dominated. Her family has not joined another church since. It's been almost 10 years.
My two kids are constantly asked by their peers to get a "pass" aka the blessing of a black person to use the word "N" word freely in their presence without consequence. And what's worse? I know the Pastor spoke some truth in saying "they're just kids."
But kids grow up to be adults. Hate was given a pass and allowed to breed. And the part that still stings is knowing these kids learned this word somewhere. So where?
From the mom parked next to me in the lot...Who clutches her purse and locks her doors when she sees us coming? The dad...who crosses the street with his kids and tells them to walk on the other side of the road when we approach? The teacher...who expects less from my kids and seems surprised when they behave well-mannered or ace their tests in honor classes? The very same Pastor...who expects more forgiveness from us when we're wronged but gives filth a pass because, you know, “we all fall short?” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
This wasn't my children’s’ first encounter with the "N" word, or their last. But this was the first time either one of them felt it was said with a malicious, daring tone. My son’s personal space was violated, he was mocked and felt like he was being "dared or provoked."
He didn't react because he went into shock. But if he had, history has taught me, he would be the one to be scolded or punished. This needs to stop.
Church / ministry leadership can't continue to expect people of color to stand idly by while heinous, despicable acts plague us and our communities. Leaders - your response is telling of the shepherds you are. And you can't expect us to come to a place of worship when you don't see us, hear us, represent us, affirm us and refuse to value us.
Silencing someone who has been oppressed is just as awful as being the oppressor.
Your passivity gives it permission. Your action or inaction speaks volumes.
And it’s contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So to my fellow Christians I say, stop making people of color swallow our tears.
These are just a couple examples of racists in the church, not to mention the many faces of racism throughout the church.
There’s so much more work to be done to address racism which includes: injustices and oppression, to disparities and lack of representation, to the "be seen, not heard mentality" of tokenism, to unconscious biases and racial trauma, to microaggressions, and so much more.
It will take more than "not being racist," to bring about unity and racial reconciliation. We each need to work on our own hearts and actions to do the work to be anti-racist. But if the Gospel is a message of love, hope, grace & peace and racism promotes hate…who is better equipped to tackle this issue?
May God continue to raise up David’s who don't passively send "thoughts & prayers" while hate infests their church and our community as they turn a blind eye to the lions that prey on their sheep. That they not be afraid to smite the enemy in his mouth to help prevent more vicious attacks, protect the oppressed as God always does, and promote the true Gospel.
I leave you with the words of civil rights leader and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taken from his interview on "Meet the Press" dated April 17, 1960:
"I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies,
that 11 o' clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours,
if not the most segregated hours in Christian America. I definitely think the
Christian church should be integrated and any church that stands against
integration and that has a segregated body is standing against the spirit
and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness..."
Let’s discuss this:
- How have you heard racism addressed from the pulpit? - How can you use your influence to stand against racism?
- How can the Church (the larger, corporate, more global church) help improve race relations in their congregations, their communities and our country?
- How to Be Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
(Photo Credit @DakRolak)