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We Don't Use the R-Word

Let's get honest about race and the modern-day Church.

Rodney King. Reginald Denny. O.J. Simpson. Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman.

The sound of each name evokes powerful emotions and agonizing memories. And with the Martin/Zimmerman case stretching into it’s fifth month without closure, as well as the death of Rodney King this past Father’s Day, we are reminded again that the issue of race in America really hasn’t gone anywhere.

Having a president who sings Al Green, plays pick-up basketball, and once wore an Afro doesn’t change that any of that.

The truth is, we live in a nation with a festering sore that sits just under society’s surface, and these names drag the ugly disease of racism and prejudice out in the open. Every few years, it seems we are right back where we started.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

In this barren wilderness of hatred, misunderstanding and pain, the stage has been set for the Church’s prophetic voice to call out.

In this barren wilderness of hatred, misunderstanding and pain, the stage has been set for the Church’s prophetic voice to call out. To speak grace, peace, healing and forgiveness.

Sadly, the Church isn’t ready.

Like Dr. King said in 1968, “We must face the sad fact that at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

In the 44 years that have elapsed since the pastor and civil rights leader made this statement, how much has really changed? Not much.

Kevin Dougherty, a leading sociologist at Baylor University, found that 15 percent of U.S. congregations today are multiracial, meaning that no single group represents over 80 percent of participants. This means, he said, that still more than 8 out of 10 U.S. congregations are largely homogeneous in terms of race and ethnicity. “In the most intimate levels of life (faith, friends, family), we remain a nation divided by race,” he says.

As frustrating as these statistics are, this problem isn’t confined to American Christians or to our epoch of human history. Racism is recorded early and often in the Scriptures. In Acts 11, for example, after experiencing visions, miracles and Jesus’ clear command to be a Church of all nations, a large segment of Christians remained staunch segregationists. In their desire to remain ethically exclusive, those preachers missed God and defied their mandate.

In the 44 years that have elapsed since the pastor and civil rights leader made this statement, how much has really changed? Not much.

Conversely, those that went to all people and shared the message of Jesus experienced the hand of God, and a "great number of people believed and turned to the Lord" (Acts 11: 21 NIV).

The second group received divine blessing and favor, while the first group received nothing. Though they went in the name of Jesus, the power of Jesus wasn’t with them. What’s worse, they didn’t even notice.

Could the same be said of us in the present-day American Church? Have we become so accustomed to ethnic exclusivity and subtle prejudice in the name of Jesus that we don’t even realize when it's happening?

An even better question is: How can we change it?

1. Realize it's not just "them," it’s us

When is the last time someone admitted to you they were a racist? The biggest misnomer is that everyone else has a problem. But the truth is, every one of us has hidden prejudices that have manifested at one time or another. The faster we understand and admit our reality, the faster Jesus can transform us.

2. Expand our circle

Though we have greater reach than ever before through technology, this isn’t always reflected in our day-to-day relationships. As humans, we have a tendency to spend the most time with the people most like us (or those we perceive to be like us). But when we step out of our comfort zone of friendships, we soon find that even though others are different from us—visually, stylistically, culturally, politically—people are just people.

3. Listen more, speak less

Anybody can be an expert on anything nowadays. We just need a blog and an Internet connection. But what if we looked to hear twice as much as we spoke (or typed)? What if we listened to someone’s true perspective without interrupting? We just might discover we don’t know quite as much as we think. When we take a posture of humility, God’s grace is added to us.

4. Pray for change

This is a spiritual struggle, and we need God’s power to overcome it.

This is a spiritual struggle, and we need God’s power to overcome it. As the Apostle Paul writes, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12). This is much bigger than any one of us. We can’t make it different by amassing human strength or wishing it away. We need Jesus to help us. When we pray, we bring divine might to the scene and can hope for transformative change.

The Church is destined to be a movement that shakes a generation with the energy of our Christ-centered community—a place where the sin of racism and segregation is no longer allowed to trump the power of Jesus’ love.

Because one day in eternity, there will be Neo-Nazis and Black Supremacists, Jews and Arabs, terrorists and the terrorized, and all will raise their voices in worship of Jesus with hands that are clasped and hearts that are broken. May we give ourselves and our voices to the realization of this vision on earth, as it will one day be in heaven.

Talk About It

What's your response to the problem of race in the modern-day Church? How do you see it crop up? Where do you see efforts being made to break down these barriers?



Anonymous commented…

Thanks Pastor Julian for an honest & straight forward intro to the topic. I believe that it's in Jesus' Top 10 Issues to address with the Church in the US. As a white church planter in Baltimore City, 70% of the people within 3 miles of my home are African American. Working toward a solution is easier for me than it is for a pastor of an existing US church. In the past, I've served pastors of church across most of the US and I believe that the problem is worse than it is stated here. If you're in church leadership or working in that direction, please follow the advice of this post and then consider listening to the Exponential "Multi-Ethnic" track of conference sessions (free on iTunes) and reading:
Ethnic Blends - Deymaz & Li
Divided by Faith - Emerson & Smith
Julian's suggestions are a great start, but God has you where you are because the work it will take to solve this problem will not be quick & easy. Ask God to shape your character first and then ask Him for specific strategy....but don't do it until you're ready to follow through, please.


Anonymous commented…

The author has some good speeches to listen to on his iTunes. In response to the "Talk about it" section, I don't necessarily see efforts being made to break down the barriers. As for solutions, I think it's about accepting people as they are and also about the mind. Race is linked to the greater issue of discrimination. We can discriminate based on race, religion, gender, age, orientation, politics, language, looks, or anything else you can think of. Since Christianity is by nature supposed to be a "catchall" meaning it believes itself to be something for ALL people, then surely it should be accepting of the way people are made(by god) with their different cultures and such. The problem stems from ignorance of the ways of the earth's people, and the tendency to label peopleas "OTHER". Especially those speaking languages, with "strange" looks that are not understandable or familiar. So one solution would be to learn more about people and cultures around the world, in a positive way. Not like how the government teaches people arabic to learn how to better kill and destroy their "enemy". Don't believe me, ask an Indian. Not to learn more about people like a company to sell you something. But to learn about people that you might not only understand them and get along better with them, but that you might as a person and as a christian uphold and perpetuate a stranger's culture. I think it is our responsibility to do such things.

Scott Hoge


Scott Hoge commented…

Probably even more threatening to the integrity of the United States is not the "ugly disease" of racism and prejudice but the cruelty and prejudice toward the ugly and diseased.

When will Americans learn?



Raymond commented…

Problem here in the UK is that there are many fellowships that are single race fellowships, not because they face racism but because they assume that they will face racism in a predominantly white culture. They then become more insular and "reverse" racist in their outlook while blaming everyone else.

John Rader


John Rader commented…

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