Discussing
Are evangelicals in denial about racism?

Josh Larsen

Josh Larsen
May 10, 2016

A Barna study suggests that the church lags behind the general population in acknowledging racism in America.

Ed
May 10, 2016

Racism is a pervasive problem in society, but it can appear to have been solved when one chooses to live a nice quiet life consumed with thoughts that everybody could have it so nice if they just "knew Jesus".

Bill
May 10, 2016

Lets not forget about ALL forms of racism. Affirmative action is racism as well.

Joshua
May 10, 2016

I appreciate this article and the study it references. As a young white male I am aware that there are blind spots in my human experience of which I am immediately disqualified to speak. I have to temper myself and the often knee jerk reaction I have to articles, news stories, and events in popular culture which are reactionary to what's going on in the black community throughout the US. I believe the issue myself and many evangelical white Christians have is the dichotomy that is immediately projected by the media. Am I allowed to morn a young life lost too soon all while not making that individual a saint and the face of a movement that certainly is beyond him and his experience? I either have to concede that the Black Live's Matter movement is correct or that I support Law Enforcement Officers. The conversation must be more nuanced and I must fight against the feeling to take a particular side and toss rocks back and forth. We should not be on the side of a particular movement, or of a particular establishment. We must view all people as God does. Imperfect, but deserving of the best He had, the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the conversation and the way it's been approached in recent years has done more harm to any type of restoration than any solitary event.

Michael Ridenhour
May 10, 2016

Who says the church is supposed to be a force of racial reconciliation? Show me that in Scripture. The church is to seek those called by God to be believers and to present the gospel to the world. All these politically correct goals are diversions from evangelism and the offer of hope to mankind through Jesus Christ.

Ed
May 10, 2016

Bill, so you think Affirmative Action is a former of racism?

To fully understand the problem of racism, one first has to understand the problem of power. As a matter of fact, one of the first concepts that is essential to understand is the racism is prejudice and the unjust use of power.

Now few people that I know think they have any power over others, let alone blacks or other minorities. This aspect alone is very difficult to see in a modern society that says everybody is equal.

However, this was not true as far back as the founding of our country when Americans had the right to own anot her person and laws were written into the body of laws that said it was not only okay but this ownership should continue.

As you may understand, when a law is passed, it has an effect upon the people in the former of other laws that become necessary because of the first law.

However, what is more heinous are the social effects of laws being passed. These affect the attitude and lead to certain people leaning to see that they are in charge and others learn that they are not. Hence, the concept of white privilege is born and grows.

So, Reverse racism is not as possible as blacks did not have power to make their own lives.

Ed
May 10, 2016

Joshua,

Keep struggling, it is good for the soul. God seems to be talking to you.

Might I also add that while you struggle, talk with other people so that struggle may be shared.

Racism is not the fault of one individual. It began with many and will end by the efforts of many. Love God and Love your neighbor as you Love yourself.

Ed
May 10, 2016

Michael,

There is probably no simpler answer to give than the fact that it was Jesus Himself who gave the double love commandment.

Jesus,you may agree, knew about the existence of different races. He also knew that certain friction existed between groups such as the Samaritans and the Jews. So tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which was guaranteed to disturb the views of the Holy people of that day.

That parable is a good one to examine when trying to understand hatred between two people. Might I recommend an in depth, scholaristically based Bible Study?

JKana
May 10, 2016

In Reply to Michael Ridenhour (comment #28206)
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I agree that the reference to 2 Cor 5:18-20 above is a bit misleading and requires some qualification. The specific "reconciliation" that Paul is talking about there is the restoration of a right relationship between God and the sinner. In the context of that pericope, the "message of reconciliation" that Christ has "committed to us" is not a message of social justice, strictly speaking. It's the kerygma of the gospel: that, in Christ, we who are far from God in sin have an opportunity to be reconciled to Him. And that message is to be the central statement about which our identity as the church revolves. Everything we do should flow from an obedience to share that message as broadly as possible.

So it would be a mistake to try taking that Scripture (and it's not the only one, either) as a proof-text for social justice. That's simply not what Paul is saying, and he would be appalled to see what happens in some sectors of the church, where we get so preoccupied with social justice that we neglect to--or, indeed, are AFRAID to--tell people what they most need to hear: that they're sinners in desperate need of the Savior.

Nevertheless, I do think there is a biblical case for the church being an agent of racial reconciliation, at least inasmuch as it means working for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ while we're all sojourners on this side of glory. We're commanded by the One who saves us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves--that, indeed, this is second only to our love for God and is the concrete way we demonstrate our alignment with God's inbreaking kingdom. Social justice without salvation is empty; but salvation that doesn't issue in a desire to work for the good of others is, I think, pretty suspect. Because if we desire to please God, ANYTHING that divides God's people or perpetuates injustice ought to be a cause for the church's concern, even if the specific expression of that concern is a matter for discussion.

I do agree with others than either/or dichotomies are damaging, and more nuance is needed in our treatments of race and the church. I don't know if it will be of much interest to anyone else, but I found this article to be a good starting point for me:

https://www.covenantseminary.edu/the-thistle/bound-together-racial-reconciliation-begins-in-the-church-jerram-barrs/

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
May 10, 2016

In Reply to Michael Ridenhour (comment #28206)
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Your question seems to have been partly answered by the commenters above, Michael, so instead I'll pose a couple of questions to you: Why wouldn't the church want to be a force for racial reconciliation? Couldn't such efforts in fact be a way of presenting the Gospel - a "hope to mankind through Jesus Christ," as you say?

Doug Vande Griend
May 10, 2016

There is an entirely different way to interpret the statistics cited by this articles than this article has.

1) Evangelicals vote or align with the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by a higher ratio even than the disparity in the answers to the racial questions cited in this article.

2) Every since the early 1960's, the Democrats have successfully courted the "black vote" and have used it as a significant factor in their political successes, to the point that today, the Democrats must get a very high proportion of the black vote to win national elections.

The Democrats' past and current political strategy for getting a high percentage of the black vote is to emphasize and re-emphasize (I would say "overstate") a variety of divisions, real or otherwise, and then characterize one side of the division as victims, and then promise they will provide those victims with relief from government. In other words, exaggerating racial divides gets Democrats votes, and lots of them.

If the above is true, and I think it clearly is, then be the kind of disparity in the answers given to the racial questions cited in these article makes sense. BUT, the truth to take away is perhaps not that "evangelicals are in denial about racism" (a presumptuous, begs-the-question title to begin with), but that "evangelicals have a more realistic perspective about race issues."

Rally
May 10, 2016

In Reply to JKana (comment #28210)
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I agree with your point that 2 Cor 5:18-20 would be a thin single support for a theology of social justice, but I don't that is exactly how it is being used here. It is supporting our call to be part of Christ's ministry of reconciliation. And I would argue that this ministry, or the kerygma, is not limited to 'right relationship between God and the sinner.' The good news we are called to share is one of both reconciliation between God and humans and between humans (it is a reflection of the Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.").

Joe
May 10, 2016

In Reply to Ed (comment #28207)
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You are playing with the definition of the word to make your point. Perhaps you mean effective or meaningful racism, but racism doesn't required power to exist.
Full Definition of racism

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

The person who says "all white people are racists whether they admit it or not" or "we have to help black people, because they can't help themselves" is just as racist as the person that says "blacks aren't smart enough to be doctors." All three statements declare things about whole races based only on their race.

Tony Vaughn
May 10, 2016

Josh,
You set up the straw man then knocked him down with your bias.
The question asked if racism was MOSTLY in the past. When evangelicals answered in the affirmative ( I mostly agree) you called that "dispiriting".
Your citation of Obama and Black Lives Matter indicates an obvious bias on your part about what the term racism even means.
As a conservative, I would describe it as a lack of equality of opportunity where I'm guessing you would describe it as a lack of equality of result.
If you are going to assess and label evangelicals as "behind the curve" on racism, don't use the metrics of the secular left who by nature are anti-evangelical.

Tamara Hill Murphy
May 10, 2016

I've been reading and re-reading these comments (as the ones on previous posts mentioned this this article) and have honestly felt speechless. I might fall in the category of those who didn't realize racism existed because I haven't been paying attention to what the larger Church has been saying about it. I've been blessed to worship with congregations who - on the whole - do not respond to calls for repentance (as surely the Barna poll is) with defensiveness. If we honestly believe the Gospel to be a saving Gospel then we RUN to the cross for forgiveness. We are not afraid to admit even the possibility of sin because we know that Christ has made a way for forgiveness.

In reading these comments, I think an important question to ask ourselves is "What are we afraid of? If it is true that we are guilty of overt racism or just passive neglect of the existence of racism, why would we be afraid to admit it? What are we trying to protect?" I think these questions -- asked before our heavenly Father and his people -- will lead us to some important realities.

Another Scriptural precedent that comes to mind is the practice of the nation of Israel to confess not only their own sins, but the "sins of their fathers". (see Ps. 106:5-7, Jeremiah 14:19-21, Daniel:7-9 as a few examples of this sort of confessional prayer) God repeatedly takes the generational view with his people. (as an aside: it's a more Western/American thing to picture our sins as only individually committed/individually repented). If NOTHING ELSE, might we respond to the news we hear - no matter the source -- with a this sort of prayer of repentance "We and our fathers have sinned."

p.s., For what it's worth, I've written some of my thoughts about what it means to repent even when we're not entirely sure if we're individually guilty at my blog: http://www.tamarahillmurphy.com/blog.thissacramentallife.com//2015/06/might-confession-and-forgiveness-be.html?rq=repent

Ed
May 10, 2016

Well, Joe, that is very interesting but it sounds to be a definition that I have never heard. What are your sources for information?

Dixon Murrah
May 10, 2016

Evangelical Christians are the ones who don't see racism in my experience. They try to live out Christian values. Racism seems to be promoted by the media and certain government officials. The reality is that there are real racial differences and it is correct to recognize them. I don't believe in prejudice of one race over another. God created them all, He died for all of them.
Psychology taught for a short time for a therapist to not recognize color but after a year or two found that did more harm than good and started teaching therapists to recognize color.

Michael Ridenhour
May 10, 2016

As is always the case there are those who would use Jesus for their own purposes, writing misleading and poorly exegeted statements about what Jesus would have done or what he REALLY meant. I stand by my statement. Racism is a modern construct, one of countless attempts by the evil one to divert men from their duty to the Lord.

Ed
May 11, 2016

Are evangelicals in denial? Certainly! However, this will not change certain facts. Sin is fixed in many minds and cannot be changed. This is totally against certain theologians which say that people can make choices. Even Karl Barth taught that you should preach with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in another.

Sharon
May 11, 2016

When we fix it in the church then we will have some hope to fix it in the world. This is a matter that we have to deal with and can't continue to sweep under the carpet.

Dixon
May 11, 2016

It all depends on what YOU mean by racism. Do you mean prejudice or recognizing that races are different.
I don't find much prejudice among evangelicals. To deny the differences in the races is to deny reality. If they were not different, there would be just one race.

Joe
May 11, 2016

Ed,
My source is a dictionary. In this case Merriam-Webster on line. Granted certain segments of our society argue that words mean whatever they want then to, but I would contend that to discuss and debate hoping to understand the truth words have to have agreed upon meanings and that is what dictionaries have been for.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism

Ed
May 11, 2016

So, Joe, what you are really saying is that you are working exclusively on your own experience, without any input from people who are different from you?

Joe
May 11, 2016

Ed, I don't know how you come to that conclusion. In fact that is part of the point of having solid definitions of words. It allows for people with differing backgrounds to be able to communicate.

Can you explain why you feel any of the three statements I offered as being racist aren't?

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
May 11, 2016

Ed and Joe,

While we appreciate your participation in our discussion, I'm afraid it's become something of a two-man back and forth at this point, which isn't very conducive to further conversation. If you want to email me at [email protected] and let me know if you're both willing to share email addresses, I'll be happy to pass those on and you can continue your dialogue that way.

Josh Larsen
TC editor

Racheltg
May 21, 2016

Two methods I used to understand my own racism are: 1)the book "Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People" by Banaji and Greenwald, and 2) online self-tests based on the book at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/indexrk.htm. In addition to racial bias, the book and tests can reveal other forms of unconscious bias. In addition, Dr. Steve Robbins taught me much about "Unintentional Intolerance" when I attended one of his workshops (http://slrobbins.com/). Although opening our minds to our unconscious behaviors can be unsettling, I believe being aware and being humble are part of our calling as Christians.

Michael Ridenhour
May 22, 2016

"Why shouldn't the church be an agent for racial reconciliation" is one of the questions I have been asked. Then, why shouldn't the church be an agent for abused women, for crippled children, for economic redevelopment, for international justice, for remediation of climate change, and so forth. The amswer is simple. Christians may certainly advocate for those wordly aims that they deem important. But the church has been given one job, to preach the gospel to the unbelievers, and it has failed. The church has become distracted by the world and by the things the world feels are important. And they are important, but they are worldy aims, not godly ones. What you see as good intentions are not good at all, if they use the time and the resources of the church to try to fix humanity. Humanity is lost. Racial justice and all the other good deeds are bandaids placed on a fatal wound.
"Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?"
Satan's tactic is to accuse, to distract and to lead men away from the truth. Your emphasis on racism is a distraction. We are called to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." And the good news is not racial reconciliation. It is Jesus Christ.

Ed
May 22, 2016

Michael,

The church has a problem and has always had a problem with who should be a part of an individual's life. It is either "I" or God. Privilege is just another name for I am first.

This does not preach as well in a church that is only debating something that the church should have mastered already. This is that God must be first in life and all other issues and people, including self, must come second.

Churches that fail this basic understanding do not have the ability to see anything else but themselves, thus life becomes "all about themselves".

You or anyone may preach Christ but it means little until the basic understanding is fostered and grows.

Ed
May 23, 2016

"Preaching the good news to all creation" is certainly a biblical, Good Idea. However, even with this being the Great Commission, how can we preach to people the "Good News" of the Christian Gospel, if our own lives do not live up to the preaching that Jesus demanded in the Great Commission?

People do not want to hear so many empty words that seem to say nothing to the church that is preaching them. You said it yourself Michael, Satan’s tactic is to accuse, to distract and to lead men away from the truth."

No argument there. But there is a problem in the idea of merely preaching without relationship to your hearers, something that many white Christians need to learn. Preaching without relationship is a way of saying, I really do not mean these words. While they are good words, these words are difficult to follow because they demand so much of me. I have to have a sincere desire to seek and develop a relationship with the other "lost" person. This is difficult as it surpasses my comfort level.

So, "as it is all about me", a failing within the church from the beginning, don't expect me to reach out and love people different from me, I have a difficult time with accepting these words as true. Therefore, I will say that it is a distraction from preaching the Gospel.

Michael Ridenhour
May 23, 2016

It is fascinating to me how you can let your imagination run so contrary to good sense. You posit accusations against me about something I have not said, to somehow turn a reasonable discussion into some sort of campaign for racial justice. You manufacture worldy positions about comfort levels and relationships out of whole cloth. Nowhere in Scripture is racial justice discussed. The Bible is a documentation of God's working out his plan for his people, a people composed of all nations, I might add. Your obsession with race is your problem, not mine, and attempts to shame me are just plain mean spirited nonsense. I showed you the error of your position, but you refuse to listen to biblical counsel, so, good day to you.

Ryan Knight
May 17, 2018

Seriously? Us Blacks have been saying this for years, and still are, but y'all don't want to listen or believe that it's true that racism is alive and well and still contributing to the body count.

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