In a recent blog post called “Why White Evangelicals Won’t Rise To This Moment”, Jesse Curtis provided some profound insights on the history of race and the evangelical church since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. I happen to agree with him on his analysis at large, and I also want to offer a path forward for the few who I believe have not only legitimately “awoken” in the wake of our recent national unrest, but are positioned and equipped to stay fully committed to learning about, living and preaching an anti-racist gospel message and leading their congregations and followers to do the same.
If the working out of biblical justice involves loving God and loving our neighbor across longstanding racial divisions, then Angela Davis’ words may be accepted as true from a biblical lens, regardless of her own faith position: “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” “Non-racist” is the posture of “I’m not racist / I love all people, yet don’t actively build awareness about my own racialization and act to limit my racist impact”. Anti-racist is a posture that actively engages with building awareness about one’s own racialization and actively works to not only reduce thier own racist impact, but to dismantle larger societal systems that oppress along racial lines. We can’t simply preach the gospel as we’ve been taught in a fundamentally racist society and expect to end with an anti-racist gospel. We need to actively work to cultivate an anti-racist gospel that will counteract the momentum of centuries of intersections of the gospel message with race, economics and politics.
There are a few standard Bible passages that leaders of predominantly white and multiethnic churches use regularly in addressing racism that I believe if removed from sermons, would reduce confusion around how to best advance an anti-racist gospel. The most popular is perhaps the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This story reiterates the rather obvious-to-most-in-2020 notion that Jesus condemns racism. That this entry-level illustration continues to make the rounds in pulpits illustrates in my opinion how little American church leadership actually engages in active and ongoing anti-racist gospel work. It is the milk of anti-racist gospel preaching, and the body who knows and experiences racism inside and out needs to be challenged with meat from its leaders.
Another popular verse is Galatians 3:28, where Paul writes how we are all essentially one in Christ – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse typically reinforces colorblind racism and further ignorance about how systemic factors inhibit the body of Christ’s ability to love people across their socio-economic divisions effectively.
There is also a category of verses whose emphasis in pulpits passively communicates that a believer’s response to grave injustice, which is to always be kind, loving, gentle, and peaceful, deserves more of the believer’s attention than addressing the injustice itself. These verses include Galatians 6:22 (the fruits of the spirit), 1 Peter 3:4 (“the unfading beauty of a calm quiet spirit”), Matthew 5:39 (turn the other cheek), the book of Philemon, and more.
At the close of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes “and yet I will show you the most excellent way”, and goes on to pen one of the most often-quoted scripture passages about love in human history. Similarly and with no assumptions that I will approach Paul’s authority on this, I provide the five passages below to show anyone interested in anti-racist gospel work what I believe will be “a more excellent way” than the cycles of reactive teaching around the above verses and others like them that have kept us treading the same white-dominant spiritual waters for centuries. I believe that if leaders truly grasp how the five verses below apply to race, economics, politics and the gospel message, we will not continue to lag behind secular activists in how we approach addressing the evil of racism in 2020, but truly begin to walk and live our greatest ideals for acting justly. That would only be possible, however, after a season of repentance, lamentation, and a massive commitment to education about our racial blind spots, which many outside the church walls have been doing for years.
I’ve listed the five verses below with a few brief reflections on how I think they will apply explicitly to anti-racist gospel commitments.
- Luke 9:58 – Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Until there is a massive shift in church culture toward anti-racist education, anti-racist gospel commitments will leave many alienated from their former spiritual communities, and seeking spiritual support and community beyond the walls of any local congregation. The spiritual seeds that are planted in prolonged anti-racist commitments are extremely difficult to grow in cultures that normalize racial unawareness, reactionary damage control after the next black person is murdered by police, performative woke-ness, or status-quo colorblind Christianity. If the commitment is to last, a lukewarm community will simply eventually have to change, and few congregational leaders are truly equipped to lead their entire congregations to a high level of anti-racist commitment. Typically, commitments will spike after black people die at the hands of police, then taper off again because systems are not in place to support ongoing engagement of the entire community. This can leave the most committed isolated and alone, and feeling that if God truly cared about this issue as much as they did, their beloved leaders, close friends and family, and larger spiritual community would as well.
2. Luke 9:62 – Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Anti-racist gospel commitments will be seen and felt once reactionary damage control tapers off. If and where this damage control is happening, it should be acknowledged as such, both for the health of the leaders who actually need to repent and lament before attempting to lead people through this, and for the health of those who have been plowing away at this for years and need the support, understanding, and teachable postures of the larger body. It would benefit people currently in the damage control posture to carefully consider the weight of this plow before grabbing it with all their might and sharing it with all their followers because social media and the country is now in an uproar.
3. Luke 16:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Anti-racist gospel commitments will mean a loss of income and membership for most congregations. It will mean doing things so differently that many who are accustomed to and in approval of either a colorblind status quo or mildly anti-racist least-common-denominator among the highest givers will simply find another place that is not so committed to a prolonged focus on anti-racist work. This will mean a loss of tithes and offerings, a breaking of relationships, and a good deal of uncertainty about how bills will get paid, for a season.
4. Luke 12:51 – Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! 52 From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against. 53 ‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”
Anti-racist gospel commitments will lead to greater division, not unity, both in churches and immediate families, for a season. Public commitments that we are hearing now will be tested by how much people are willing to sacrifice, right down to core-life relationships, as Jesus references here. When a new congregation of highly committed anti-racist Christians is assembled in support of prioritizing major anti-racist gospel principles through revised systems and practices, unity will grow upon a stronger foundation, and we will have turned a corner.
5. Luke 8:4-15: While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
Anti-racist gospel commitments, in this context the “seeds”, will also be tested by a variety of other obstacles including competing theological lenses, people of various skin tones holding various beliefs and political persuasions, accusations of favoritism from other people groups with legitimate grievances, lack of leadership support, fatigue, doubt, and blind spots that continue to go unaddressed through an unwavering team commitment to gaining knowledge. There has been no other social evil that has compromised the integrity of the gospel message in America for as many years as white supremacy. The good soil will be those who hold tight to this historical reality and persist through these challenges to cultivate joy, strength and wisdom in the anti-racist walk where there was once guilt, fear, and shame.
In 1967 Martin Luther King spoke these words in his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”:
“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”
Just two days ago, 53 years after MLK’s words, Jesse Curtis wrote:
“Behind the banner headlines made by denominational leaders and magazine editors, most white evangelical pastors’ message in this moment of crisis is likely to be pared down to the lowest common denominator acceptable to their white populist base. If their constituents cannot agree on the merits of racial justice protestors, at least they can agree to love each other and keep the church door open. This message might save the evangelical coalition from fracture, but it will not promote black liberation. Indeed, it was never designed to do that.”
Let’s reflect on these realities, on the lessons we have yet to learn and apply, and get it right this time around. If this has resonated with you and you would like support in your own anti-racist gospel work, click follow and add a comment or DM me with a bit of your own context. Thanks and God bless!