When will more white, Christian leaders and pastors collectively take a stand against the sin of racism next to the black and brown leaders? The wait-and-see and “let the black and brown churches deal with it” approaches are not what the body of Christ is about. This sluggish approach to solving the sin of racism in America makes me cringe because Christians are called to a higher standard of living.
This cautious approach to leadership today is not just in society but within the walls of the church. This virtually nonexistent approach was seen sixty years ago during the Civil Rights era with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people are familiar with Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail (written on April 16, 1963), but that letter was written as a response to a letter sent to him by a clergyman in Alabama. The clergyman’s letter to Dr. King on April 12, 1963, called the peaceful demonstrations in Alabama “unwise and untimely.” Their letter suggested that approaches to racial issues should be addressed by the courts, and whatever the courts decide should be “peacefully obeyed.” What an eerie similarity between Christian leadership then and now. Leaders need to be proactive in getting rid of sin, not reactive.
Christians from diverse churches and organizations have recently started expressing their sympathies and concerns regarding the senseless, tragic murders of Ahaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and others. After more than four hundred years of racism, oppression, and injustices experienced by black and brown people in the United States, some predominately white churches are starting to listen and ask what they can do to help.
First, we must understand what racism is. It’s ingrained into the very foundation of America and is perpetuated every day. It is called systemic or institutionalized racism. Systemic racism has to be fought by those in power in the majority of institutions in the United States, which is predominantly led by white men.
Secondly, if systemic racism is to end, Christian leaders cannot depend on political, social and economic institutions to lead the way toward justice. It’s the Church’s responsibility. What other institution is better equipped to pinpoint the sin of racism than the Church? Where else can healing be found than within the Church? Where else can justice and freedom be found than within the Church?
Some say it’s going to take time to end systemic racism and we need to take slow steps toward justice. Nowhere in the Bible does God say it takes time to overcome a sin or we should “tread lightly” in an area of sin. While there may be a progression to change things once that sin is addressed and forgiven, steps toward change must begin for sin to no longer control our lives.
To constantly repeat the horrors of racism and its prevailing outcomes only compounds the issue when actions aren’t taken to combat it. The problem is that we have become so comfortable with this sin that most don’t even recognize it still exists until something drastic happens—like the murders of Arbery, Floyd and Taylor. Racism is so ingrained within the foundation of our society and church that people have become accustomed to living with it.
But the Kingdom of God is the great example of what it could look like. The church must be bold in confronting and advocating for racial groups in America who have been historically marginalized. God’s expectation for the church is to be united. The Bible provides a clear depiction of what the kingdom of God looks like: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV). What a vivid illustration of what diversity looks like when we are united.
But America’s depiction of unity is groups that look, think and behave like one another.
From church leaders to parishioners, racist mindsets have controlled thoughts and attitudes, then subsequently doctrine, which has allowed racism to go unchallenged. Many churches do a great job of talking about loving all people from mid-January (Dr. Martin Luther King Day) through February (Black History month). But the rest of the year, loving others in relation to being different is neglected. The work of justice is a daily effort God commands the church to undertake. (See Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8; Amos 5:24.) Justice work never ends because we live in a broken and fallen world.
We must move from superficial engagements and surface-level conversations to bold, transforming dialogues—where lives are changed. God has given us platforms to create change through his power, not to simply perpetuate norms. Racism is killing unity in the church. But advocating for its demise can create a revolution within the church so powerful that this generation and future generations will be impacted.
Christian leaders must embrace Psalm 1:1–3, to not walk in the steps of the wicked, stand in the way sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers. The world embraces the sin of racism, and Christian leaders need to stand for truth and delight themselves in justice work.
The law of the Lord calls for it, and your efforts will produce fruit in season because it is planted like a tree by streams of water (Psalm 1:3). Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37 ESV). God needs you to take a stand, advocate for racially marginalized groups, and build his kingdom. The senseless murders of Arbery, Floyd, and Taylor are just a few cases that have recently highlighted the issue of systemic racism in America. It’s time for the majority white church to take the lead and carry the burden in this fight against systemic racism.