Yes, you heard that right, my white church. Why not just the church? In fact, I bet the title alone will set up some keen anticipation for me to address everything that’s wrong with the white church and how it’s whiteness is harming people of color, how silent the white church is on issues of social justice and generally are wielding it’s power of white supremacy against the health of the church. Sure, there will be some that will roll their eyes, shake their heads and wonder why people keep being divisive with race labels and such. But I’ll get to you later.
Because of this anticipation and it’s increasing prominence in our present day discourse, I’m provoked to ask some questions. They are not easy questions nor are they questions meant to be dismissive. They are questions that have been bubbling up for some time as I observe the landscape.
Now, I have no doubt that there are prejudicial attitudes among some churches that have all white or predominantly white congregants, a lingering remnant of an ugly and rather lengthy historical legacy. We can’t be naive about the historical trek that subjugated black and brown skin to an inferior status such that people who possessed these attributes were not even worthy of being called citizens or even fully human, but slaves and second class citizens who dared not pollute the purity of white culture. We also can’t be naive about the role that the American evangelical church played in supporting this mindset and actually used the Bible to justify such twisted thinking. Yes, this actually did happen.
I get that. I get that church still has some ways to go with respect to racial reconciliation. I get that despite all the progress–and there has been progress–there remains a level of ignorance that still needs addressing. Even though we’ve come a long way, I get that some are unaware of their own unconscious biases that do need challenging if we are truly going to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because, if I’m not mistaken, that is the goal to live together as the family of God.
But there is something else going on, it seems. Something that has moved beyond simply wanting for non-white Christians to experience equal valuation, that wants to address any persisting prejudices that may still keep minorities from fully participating in the life of the church, whose specific issues are equally considered. It’s something that moves beyond reconciliation.
Dismantling white supremacy is all the rage these days. It seems like every logging into my FB or Twitter account brings me face to face with yet another treatise on how white supremacy must be eliminated and how white people need to repent of their whiteness. A friend recently said that it is like the new prayer of Jabez.
So please allow me to ask some questions. What exactly do people want to see with respect to this dismantling of white supremacy in the church? Is it simply wanting for non-whites to have a seat at the table, invited to have a voice and valuable contribution? I think that’s an admirable goal and in line with Scripture if we truly are regarding others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3). Or is it ensuring that white leaders are removed from power over the church and transplanted with people of color? Do we want to remove their presence altogether?
Is this a power struggle? Because it’s one thing to actually want reconciliation. It’s quite another to want to subjugate a group to an inferior status in the interest of dismantling white supremacy. Is the goal for our white brothers and sisters to suffer the same plight of marginalization that minorities suffered? Is our goal to silence their voices unless they capitulate to every sociological demand, including support of groups like Black Lives Matter that have no foundation or roots in Christian orthodoxy and prescribe anti-Christian sentiments? Because it is possible in the course of dismantling this domination, to turn the tables. I was struck by this article from a few days ago from a self-professed social justice activist regarding concerns about present day activism; social justice activism;
Postcolonialist black Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon in his 1961 book Wretched of the Earth writes about the volatile relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and the conditions of decolonization. In it, he sharply warns the colonized against reproducing and maintaining the oppressive systems of colonization by replacing those at top by those previously at the bottom after a successful revolution . . . The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy.
He speaks from a non-Christian perspective, but there is a warning there, I think.
This leads me to ask questions about the code language that is so easily employed and generically applied as if all white Christians are guilty of the same transgressions. And the code language is important and not to be challenged: whiteness, white supremacy, oppression, marginalization, colonization. Try pushing back on any of it and you will be branded as endorsing whiteness and maybe even treated like an enemy…like them. You would think that all churches everywhere are guilty of oppression of people of color, are ignoring people of color and generally just not considering their issues, wholesale.
When I go into my white church, how does this impact how I see it and the people there? Ok, so it’s majority white with a small presence of various ethnicities. And for the most part, many have been thoughtful and hospitable to me. But still, since whiteness is the problem, it seems I should have a problem walking into my church and gathering with all these white saints. I should have my senses heightened for microaggressions, you know those ignorant jabs that clueless white people give…yes even the hospitable ones who have embraced me as their sister in Christ. To be sure, since I’m going to a white church, as opposed to simply Christ’s church, these senses will be heightened and my suspicion of them provoked.
How does this all cause me to even look at those white people in my church, and white Christians in general? How can I now not be suspicious of them? Are they now not those who oppose me, who oppose blackness and the struggle that has existed for so many years? What do I do with the all those Trump supporters since they are the ones upholding white supremacy? Oh but wait, there is only a fraction who actually supported him because many have expressed to me the angst in that decision and lamenting the choices we had. I know this because we have lamented together, as members of the same body, committed to the same Gospel and it’s obedience, exalting the same work and person of Christ who is the one who binds us together.
And that leads me to the biggest question as I observe the landscape, the shout downs and generalized calling out of what all these white Christians need to do: are we undermining Christ’s supremacy? Has all this attention on white supremacy maybe pushed down central issues to being part of the kingdom of God together, with its discipleship mandates and being salt and light in the world? Because it seems to me, based on what I read in Scripture anyway, that only through him can true reconciliation happen. It’s only because he has broken down the walls of hostility that keep people of different racial and ethnic orientations at odds with one another and gives us a greater orientation in himself that we can’t even see through the maze of our own angst, and hurt and lingering historical memories. It is only through his supremacy that all other supremacies and identities must be subjected, yes even black ones. Because I’m left to wonder with the all the talk about white supremacy and castigation for churches, especially those white ones who don’t give support of the Black Lives Matter movement if there’s not a desire to trade one supremacy and identity for the other.
Does this make me less of a person, or rather less of a black person because I raise these questions and am not outright repudiating my white church? For some, it might. But I’m hoping it doesn’t make me less of a Christian because that’s the identity that matters the most.
And so I can’t help but find myself increasingly in that group that rolls its eyes and sucks its teeth. Not because I don’t care about issues or care about addressing prejudicial attitudes, but because I care about Christ and his Bride more and hate to see her being pulled apart the way she is.
Reblogged this on Citizen of New Jerusalem and commented:
Here’s a tremendous blog post featuring a set of insightful, paradigm-busting questions from a black sister in Christ who belongs to a mostly-white local church. These are the types of questions that invite everyone’s sincere engagement, as opposed to the many questions out there which begin by pathologizing “whiteness,” excluding sincere white Christians from responding and being heard fairly. Thanks, Lisa.
Christ only created one church, and we all need to work together to build it up, and make it a community where everyone wants to join in for the glory of God, that Christ might live in all of us as we work for a better world where God’s will is done.
I used to go the the Moody Church at Chicago. During black history month Dr Lutzer shared how in the 60’s and before would not allow blacks (negroes) to be members of the church. On this Sunday Dr. Lutzer confessed the churches sin and prayed for forgiveness. Happy to say today there are African American pastors, singers, musicians, Sunday school teachers, ushers, prayer warriors and staff members. Going to Moody Church is like going to theUnited Nations. I don’t go there now but happy to say my current church has African American, Phillpino, Hispanic, Asia and Anglo-Saxon members. However, we do not practice or promote a social gospel. We teach the Bible which answers all social problems.
Thank you. I am several months into a quest to meet and engage with folks outside of my Christian background in an effort to try to see things from their perspective. Your post perfectly addressed what I’ve been feeling but have opted to just keep to myself after the few times I mentioned it and was jumped and told I was just showing my whiteness. Here’s to sinners from every tribe and tongue laying down our filthy rags and learning how to be His bride. To holiness, my friend!
Challenging and encouraging. Thank you.
I posted a response on a friends fb page and decided to share it with you, too:
Good discussions to have. I agree with some of her thoughts but to some I say, “Huh?”
One must ask why historically those abiding in higher tiers or privileged tiers of our society feel oppressed by those seeking justice – not to mention those in oppressed groups who side with the institutionalized oppression.
MLK, Jr, John Lewis (minister and current congressman) along with a slew of civil rights activists in the 60s were accused of these “anti-Christian sentiments” she accuses BLM of. Those Christians feeling offended, nervous would respond with “Wait, the time is not now, your (non-violent, mind you) protest is divisive and not respectable, just pray silently, your time will come, don’t divide the church…”
So it needs to be emphasized (over and over) that pointing out injustices, working against prejudice and bias, saying that groups that historically have not counted in our society do count, is not an attempt to pull down the church, nor majority groups. BLM and similar groups have at its base, supported equality and justice – not division, separation and racial hierarchies akin to white nationalist groups.
Perhaps it was a small fraction in her church, but nationally, the fraction of white evangelicals who supported president Trump – was 81%..since she brought it up. And a couple of years ago, it was in Christianity Today where I read about the poll results indicating that white evangelicals were the group most likely to not want a minority to move into their neighborhood.
So I don’t ignore the underpinnings of implicit and explicit bias in our society. The same people attend church. There’s no avoiding the history of segregation in our churches because blacks weren’t allowed in or had to sit the furthest distances away if they were, thus Blacks had to establish their own churches…
I, too attend a predominant white (but mixed race) evangelical church, but one where leadership is not afraid to call out injustices in our society and call our church to action. A church where Christ is supreme because members are challenged to love (action verb) God and to love their neighbors.
My overall point is, don’t confuse calls for equality and calls for reconciliation with calls for “supremacy replacement.” That is the fear of those who cannot bring themselves to love their neighbor, not the sentiment of the large majority of those pining for a just America. What is my wish for the body of Christ, that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
Hi Jewell, thanks for taking the time to write out such a thoughtful response. I am working on a follow up because 1) I have some further/questions thoughts that I didn’t include, 2) I think there are some issues you raised (as have others) I would like to parse out and 3) because I in no way want to give the impression that addressing racism in the church and lingering vestiges of white cultural captivity is not a worthy pursuit. One of my main concerns is how we are going about it. I do think there is a hyperbolized generic charge that is being imposed and it concerns me with respect to the task of real reconciliation. This is why I framed the post in the form of questions, because I’m asking what are we really doing here?
Regarding BLM and it’s support, here is where I find some unfortunate binary thinking in play. That is, if you are against BLM you are against the interest of addressing injustices that affect people of color. This simply is not true. There are very valid reasons for Christian opposition of this group and it’s foundational underpinnings without rejecting the issues that it’s original formation was designed to correct. I wrote more about here, if you’re interested.
Voted for Trump and “supported President Trump” are not the same thing. That type of simplistic lumping is not helpful. Lisa’s description in the piece closely mirrors what we saw in these parts – a lot of angst re. the election.
Yes, thank you! That’s the point I was trying to get across. Not every white Christian was enthusiastic about that choice but considered the alternative worse.
And the 81% statistic is often misquoted. It’s not that 81% of all white evangelicals voted for Trump. It is more accurate to say that 81% of those who cast a ballot for President voted for him. There were some who simply didn’t vote for any candidate for President because the choices were so discouraging.
Neicy, that’s a great point! I would be curious to know what that percentage is. Just based on my own experience from people I know, I’ve encountered more white evangelicals that hated this choice or didn’t vote. Again, just my limited scope and I’m sure actual support probably exists in higher concentrations in other places.
Same for my church. There were people who voted for him but I can’t imagine many were happy to do it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog post. Very thoughtful and vulnerable.
Thank you sister. Thoughtful and helpful. Applicable here in Montgomery.
I have been heartsick to observe that as the world has been busy organizing itself into two political camps — one Deconstructive/Revolutionary, the other Civilizational/Racial Reactionary — the Church has usually been busy following the world. What a witness it would be to take hold of the Message of Reconciliation and to reform the Church and her members after it — and what an opportunity we in the Church are missing by dividing along the world’s Revolutionary/Reactionary lines instead.
This essay is a beam of light. Thank you.
I asked these very same questions when this “spirit” ran thru the racially/ethnically diverse church I was attending. In a class that was offered, I began questioning the parts of the social justice teaching that I found unbiblical and was ultimately judged and dismissed as an “unrepentant racist” without the leaders really engaging my questions, and worse, without knowing my personal life. There was no offer of reconciliation for me with this group. It was cult-like.
You’re essay is a beam of light as the commenter above has said, and is a balm to my wounded heart.
“Black Lives Matter who have no foundation or roots in Christian orthodoxy and prescribe anti-Christian sentiments?”
What? Stop killing us is anti-Christian?
And your white church is a picture of the gospel? How?
I’m not speaking of slogans, but foundations. Have you actually read their core values? http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/ I fail to see how a movement that is premised on disrupting the nuclear family, establishing a collective regime, abolishing patriarchy (hence asserting radical feminism) and affirming gay/quee is consistent with Christian values. The foundation is all about overturning civil society and individual liberty and replacing it with collectivism that turns the oppressed into the oppressor. It’s Marxism, not Christianity.
And speaking of slogans, “pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon” is one that emerged from this movement. In all fairness, the original founders did not coin it but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the very premise for its existence facilitated it.
Please help me understand how this aligns with Christian values? You might want to check out the link above for my expanded thoughts on Black Lives Matter before rushing to unwarranted conclusions.
Are there black churches? How come?
Are blacks racist against others of their own race? For instance aren’t those with lighter skin often given preferential treatment?
Ever notice slavery mentioned in the Bible? See Genesis 15:13; Deuteronomy 15:15 please note who the slaves are and who their captors were. Also which continent. Now why isn’t this a matter of ongoing outrage? Are the Israelites inferior to others?
The point I am trying to make is that this issue is a lot bigger than it has been portrayed by the world. The bottom line, the Christian view, is that we are all sinners, no matter the skin color. Every single person has sinned and fallen short. There will always be unfairness, inequity, hatred, mistrust, oppression in this fallen world. No one “race” can claim moral superiority or the moral high ground, for we all have sinned and done what is evil in God’s eyes, and it is to Him that we are accountable. Note that slavery is mentioned in the first book of the Bible, it’s been around that long. In some areas of the world slavery still exists. Mankind is utterly incapable of creating utopia. The Christian ought to realize this and not buy into the world’s ideas that we can fix this. No, it is a heart problem shared by the whole human race. It must be dealt with and will be dealt with finally and fully in Christ. Yes we can work to bring truth to bear, but please take a big picture view. This is not a 21st century problem or an American problem. It is worldwide – it is historically worldwide. To narrow it down to one nation or one people is to miss the point and cloud our thinking. We need the gospel, we need the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for writing this article.
Every time we use words like “white privilege”, “unconscious bias”, and other culturally charged words at our church (specially in sermons) I cringe. I’m a Christian at a church that preaches Christ. I’m also a minority and have issues with these concepts; what they mean, their implications, and the narrative around them.
In the video link below, the professor talks about the “test” which was used to promote the idea of unconscious bias. I have not heard a helpful counter argument to the concerns this University Professor brings on the implicit association test which is used to bring the idea of “unconscious bias” to the forefront of cultural discussion on racism.
At least you are asking deeper questions and trying to work out the conclusions of the proposed narrative. I don’t have things fully flushed out in my mind on this topic, but I’m not willing to adopt these cultural ideas and run with them. They lead to bad places, places where Christ warns us not to go. Pull the log from your own eye before you take out the “unconscious bias” in your neighbors.
These ideas do a disservice in dealing with the issues of racism and more deeply, suffering/evil and our identify in Christ. Ideas like “unconscious bias” have only driven fear deeper in people and created real animosity. Again, thanks for writing this article and hopefully this doesn’t detract from the discussion.
Alex, thank you for that thoughtful comment. No, it does not at all detract from the discussion but in my mind, provides a much needed commentary in our current environment. We know racism and racial bias exists. But it is not helpful to treat all our white brothers and sisters with an automatic presumption of guilt as if it MUST be going on with them (unless they recite all the code words). I can’t help but see this is what is going on. As a result, people are being swept into the 2 broad categories: white supremacists/racist/Trump supporter/minority oppressing or concern for the plight of the oppressed minorities/imago Dei conscious/BLM supporting. The room to parse out actual infractions vs. actual support is becoming smaller and smaller. I think you are absolutely right, it does nothing but create hostility.
As an FYI, I’m working on a follow up and this is a point I want to raise.
I was encourage to see that Al Molar admits the church is responsible for BLM in his response to “What Has Geneva to Do with Ferguson?” by Mika Edmondson / July 21, 2017 article on TGC.
As an older “white” guy, I’m often bewildered by the call for more justice as I stopped seeing color a long time ago, as did most of the white people around me. As MLK desired, I look at people by the content of their character. I’m as disgusted by the vestiges of racism as anyone and work against them when I can.
The concern for white people like me is what else is expected of us? Wasn’t not seeing color the goal? To us it does feel like we’re supposed to completely repudiate ourselves of whiteness and declare the white race as responsible for all the world’s woes. Not all white people were pro slavery and many in history fought it to their own peril. We can’t understand why all white people are lumped together and labeled as oppressors.
A further concern is that the anti-white movement has a socialist tint to it, that social justice goes beyond removing barriers to opportunity and moves into equal outcome, the definition of which can be seriously subjective and destructive to society. It also tends to replace God with government.
As you state, flipping racial privilege upside down does not remove racial privilege. It simply continues an abhorrent practice with only a change in the seating chart.
Keith, I agree,brother. We can learn from history, hopefully. Much of what is happening in the USA happened years ago in South Africa. Here is a great article about it. Check out the website of this man, Peter Hammond. He has a lot of very insightful articles:
Great post. There is a misconception about Black Christians. Not all are liberal when it comes to poltics. I went to a college where it was a Christian school and it had few blacks. This day in age people in the Church need to preach a gospel that Christ will approve. The way racism would end in the Church if pastors would stop making the gospel base on poltics. You can’t reach people if you don’t see others the way Christ see others. I have friends from all walks of life. Again great post. I learned about this from Tony Evans
Thanks Missy. Yes, I had seen that before. I’m probably a bit more lenient on this issue than she is. But I do appreciate much of what she said.
I read your post and I couldn’t hit the follow button more quickly. My pastor spoke about this just today and cited 1 Peter where the Lord says that we are one nation, the Greek word for nation being ehtnos (in other words, race). I would love to have your email and speak about the church and the white church. I’m planning on pursuing missions and this is something that has really been on my mind.
It seems to me that you relegate racism to the past, but as I have been eavesdropping on some black Reformed friends who are discussing these issues, racism is for them not a matter merely of the past but also of the present. At the very least my friends know themselves to be irredeemably “other” in white churches, and the white church doesn’t quite know what do do with them. Frankly, black people shouldn’t be given a place at the table. In Christ they are entitled to it. But that’s not quite how it works. And it is clear to me that my black friends’ “problem” is not their inadequate understanding of and commitment to the unity of the Body of Christ. Let’s not pretend to solve this problem with straw men.
Stuart, of course racism still exists. I’m not denying that. But to what degree? Yes, there are still instances of blatant discrimination in the church, like congregations not welcoming people of color or pastors putting in requests to seminaries that they only want white pastors. I know for a fact this happens in some places. Yes, that deserves to be addressed. But what I’m questioning here is something else, where the degree of transgressions as they happened in the past are being assumed on white churches in general. It is producing more of a segregationist mentality in cases where there is not discrimination. That’s what I’m addressing here.
Thank you for responding Lisa. I appreciate everything about you. But the tenor of responses to your article, and the things left unsaid there, imply that Black people should “just get over it.” However, there are different levels of racism that are still racism. I am a Jew. A cousin of mine, a world class Jewish scholar, used to go out with a Gentile girl from ritzy Scarsdale. He said her W.A.S.P. parents were the kind of people who defined an anti-Semite as “anyone who dislikes Jews any more than is absolutely necessary.” I hope you catch the whimsy, and I imagine you do.
Years ago a Fundamentalist missionary I know addressed Moody Founder’s week, at Moody Bible Institute. Brilliantly, he said, “Many of you are sitting her proud that you have black people in your congregations. You consider yourselves tolerant and advanced. But let me ask you this question: “How many of you would sit under a black pastor or black elders?” Silence.
Racism does not have to be wrapped in a Klan robe to be real or to be detected by black people who face it all the time. And to imagine that it does not exist, and that black people have no basis for feeling at best tolerated but kept in their place is naive.
I am not speaking here of Black Lives Matter, or of militancy. But I AM talking about us not being patronizing or naive.
Thanks again. You are uncommonly intelligent and articulate and you care about the right things. I appreciate having met you.
But for sure, we disagree.
I stumbled upon this post tonight and some of these are things I ask as well:
What would justice look like?
What about Forgiveness?
Where does forgiveness come in, if at all?
At what point do we stop looking at the color of our skin and look to Christ’s death on the cross for ALL SINS? Yes, even the sin of racism.
At what point do we start living in God’s forgiveness? Not just our own sins, but the sin’s of others?
Do I have preconceived notions about people merely because of the color of the skin? Or even their accent?? Did not Christ die for them as well? Certainly He did, so why do I think His blood is not enough to wash away their sin’s as He has mine? If Christ can and does forgive, why am I not willing to forgive??
What is it Jesus teaches about forgiveness?? There are some verses that pretty much everyone knows by heart, and they recite them in church, but the two verses that come right after those, I think are some of the most ignored or merely read over as if they aren’t important–but I tend to think that they are some of the most important.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen
But these verses that follow I think are just as important for the Christian to heed, verse 15 in particular is one that God dealt with me on with something that happened to me as a child, and given we are ALL sinners who deserve death and not forgiveness—how are my sin’s (against God and others) not just as vile in God’s eye’s as the sin that was committed against me? A person who commits one sin is just as guilty before God as a person who has committed a 100 sins. While they might not be the same sin’s they are sin’s none the less. On a personal level, there is nothing this person could have done to ‘make up for’ what they did, couldn’t go back and change it, no amount of money would have changed what had happened, or even made things easier, no justice could be served that would be helpful, no pound of their flesh would have made me feel better inside. But God knew what it was I needed..and that was for me to realize that Christ already paid with His own flesh and blood–His body was beaten and pounds of flesh were literally pulled from His body for the sin’s committed by me towards others and by others towards me, so how could I continue to hold this sin towards me against them, when Christ already paid the price?? Yes, even if they didn’t recognize it and accept that forgiveness as their own the Price has still been paid, and it is up to me as a Christian to live in that forgiveness that God offers towards them–not beat them over the head and remind them, not demand retribution but to pray for them, that they too would repent and accept God’s love and forgiveness for themselves, and if they don’t, the cost will be paid for eternity and that horrifies me more for them than the sin against me for a few years–especially in light of eternity. While this applies on a personal level to me, I think it also expands to society and the church as a whole–so when I read of a ‘White church a Black church’ It makes me cry, as I realize the church is divided because we are not acknowledging God has already paid the price, He’s already given the pound of flesh and shed His blood, that allows for reconciliation to Him and each other. So, if some can not forgive how can they, given what God says in these verses, expect to be forgiven their sin’s??
vs 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
vs 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Do I have preconceived notions about people merely because of the color of the skin? Or even their accent?? Did not Christ die for them as well? Certainly He did, so why do I think His blood is not enough to wash away their sin’s as He has mine? If Christ can and does forgive, why am I not willing to forgive??
I want to address this because it sounds strange–it’s not that those things are sins (the color of someone’s skin or even an accent) it’s in the general sense that all are sinners, and how we can assume those things make some else (better than, less than, more sinful, less sinful) than anyone else. In light of God’s love and given He created all of us in HIS Image–and those differences are actually because of those who came before us, the Tower of Babel for one–it was there that things changed, and God separated everyone by language and possibly skin color—and even the results of that continue to plague us today–as we continue to separate ourselves from each other as God did back then–when in Christ we should be united as One–as it was before the Tower..