If Breonna Taylor’s Grand Jury verdict has shown us anything, it’s that we have a very long way to go towards racial justice in the United States. If you feel alone in your desire to see the church be an agent of change in this area, take heart, and read on. As Samwise Gamgee said in Two Towers, “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.” Let’s fight for it.
Conviction can be a beautiful thing. It’s both an emotion and state of being, often simultaneously. Our convictions guide our lives, shape our actions, and often determine the communities we find ourselves a part of.
But convictions can also isolate, especially when they fly in the face of the status quo. Being passionate about something that has not been historically important to the church is not a recipe for retaining strong community, especially in a hyper-polarized election, pandemic, violent, year (that’s also been threatened by murder hornets and vampire bats. But that’s beside the point). And, while Christians nationwide have started speaking up about racial justice, there is a long way to go before that trend defines evangelicals as a whole.
A Tale of Two Evangelicals
Evangelicals really can’t be put under one big umbrella, though some will try to. On one had, there are men like Tim Keller who has sustained a decade long push for Christians to care about social justice. I love this recent tweet of his:
The label of Marxist/Communist/Socialist is a common criticism of Christians who advocate for the church’s active involvement in social justice. The tweet above is a concise rebuttal against that criticism. Keller’s combination of academic excellence and merciful entreaty is so incredibly compelling to me. The church is better because of his voice.
But it seems for each voice pleading with the church to actively pursue justice, there are even louder voices of pushback. John MacArthur, a pastor of a congregation of about 8,000 and a large online presence recently preached this in a message titled, “How Should Christians Respond to the Riots?”
“They [the protesters] have gone way beyond an injustice, or several injustices, to conclude that there is systemic racism, White hatred, widespread police brutality. Those are lies, those are not true. I can’t, I can’t join the protest without being part of the lies.https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/81-81/how-should-christians-respond-to-the-riots
That was addressing the rioters. He then turns his focus to Christians:
“Stop trying to fix the fallen world. The quest for justice is a vanity. It is a vapor. So there’s no justice, no perfect justice. There will be. God will bring every deed into judgment whether good or evil. Let God be God, and you be you. Live under God’s providence.”https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/81-81/how-should-christians-respond-to-the-riots
John MacArthur is not an outlier. While he is more confrontational than most, his reasoning is very much part of the status quo in the American church that tends to downplay the importance of fighting for material issues (poverty, racial justice, climate control, etc.) because of the eschatological view that the earth will pass away before the Lord makes all things new.
Can We Talk About Race?
When it comes to the specific question of whether the church should be addressing race, I’ve personally heard logic like this:
The issue of race doesn’t really affect us, we are a mostly white church and community. It’s over there.
We might eventually do some messages on race, but we’re in the middle of a sermon series right now.
If we just loved better race wouldn’t be an issue.
We want to keep the main thing the main thing.
I can’t afford to bring up race or the protests in my sermons. There are people who would leave the church or withdraw their financial support.
Do you relate?
Given the dramatic escalation of racial violence in the news this year, I thought the church would be in a different place. I didn’t think that so many Christians would remain ambivalent or antagonistic towards healing racial divides. And that’s not just my perception; the Barna group recently released the results of a poll assessing how motivated different groups of Americans were to pursue racial justice in their communities. All groups surveyed were significantly more motivated than when surveyed in 2019. All groups, that is, but one.
Can you guess which one?
“30 percent of practicing Christians say they are either “unmotivated” or “not at all motivated” to address racial injustice in society. That’s almost twice as much as last year, when 17 percent said they were not motivated. “Christians generally, and practicing Christians in particular, have changed their minds on addressing racial injustice, but if anything, they’re actually moving away from being motivated,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group.https://relevantmagazine.com/justice/life-human-dignity/practicing-christians-are-actually-becoming-less-motivated-to-address-racial-justice/
If You’re Lonely, You’re Not Alone
There’s reason to feel lonely. Caring about racial justice actually goes against the tide for a growing number of practicing Christians. Not all, not by any means. But for a significant portion.
Why is that so surprising? It shouldn’t be. When the prophets brought messages to their communities they were shunned. It wasn’t a compliment to be a prophet. We don’t like to be confronted with our sin, so much so that we will go to great lengths to convince ourselves that it isn’t sin at all. Social change has historically been brought about by a minority not majority. And the church has a long history of complicity in racism that is going to take concentrated, passionate effort to undo.
So, if you’re on this journey, missing your people and feeling isolated, take heart. You’re not really alone. Even when it seems like the church at large is pushing back, there are leaders making significant strides to embrace justice and change. Look at this encouraging post from Latasha Morrison, founder of Be the Bridge, an organization dedicated empowering people and organizations towards racial healing in the name of Jesus:
Which Side of History Will We Be Found On?
The church has been given a “third” chance to get it right in the face of major human-rights movements. The church was slow to condemn slavery. Slow to condemn Jim Crow. Slow to support the Civil Rights movement. 50 years from now we don’t want to look back on this moment and think, “how could we have missed the point? Why were we so afraid to speak out?” This really seems to be history in the making and we can be part of undoing, what historian Jemar Tisby so aptly identifies, the “church’s complicity in racism.” I want to be on the side of history that is defined by the church bringing God’s unfathomable mercy and healing to earth. Even if it feels lonely at times. Do you?
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