John Perkins has observed, “Something is wrong at the root of American evangelicalism. I believe we have lost the gospel -God’s reconciling power, which is unique to Christianity -and have substituted church growth. We have learned how to reproduce the church without the message.”
White evangelicals, we have a problem. We have been for some time. In Christian terms, repentance is in order! But it seems many white Christian leaders are far more interested in mere talk rather than taking real actions to answer the call of the Black and Brown image bearers of God that continue to cry in streets for justice. Many white Christian pastors have been content with addressing this once or twice in their pulpits, or inviting a prominent Black Christian to have a conversation and a show of humility that is often empty symbolism. This has been exhibited by prominent Christian pastors in the last few weeks. Awkward and embarrassing moments followed. In an effort to be seen as doing something, a meeting, a gesture, a moment is produced. But the moments fall far short of what is needed. What is needed is a real examination of the history of the American Church in complicity with the racism that has been institutionalized.
There are some Christian leaders who suggest that now is no time for politics. But it comes off as a bit duplicitous, to suggest that now, when marginalized people are crying in the streets for justice, we should “shut up and preach the gospel.”
As Eliza Griswold points out in the New Yorker, “In the United States, evangelicalism has long been allied with political conservatism. But under Trump’s Presidency right-wing political rhetoric has become more openly racist and xenophobic. In evangelical circles, hostility toward people of color is often couched in nostalgia for the simpler days of nineteen-fifties America. “Sociologically, the principal difference between white and black evangelicals is that we believe that oppression exists,” Harper said, citing a nationwide study of Christians from 2000 called Divided by Faith. “A lot of white evangelicals don’t believe in systemic oppression, except lately, under Trump, when they’ve cast themselves as its victim.” To Harper, the 2016 election revealed the degree to which white evangelicals were “captive” to white supremacy. “They’re more white than Christian.”
It seems we are at a moment in history when things may change. I temper my optimism because I understand the depths of intrenched racism in our Nation. And the Christian Church is in a powerful place to bring about real change. But as long as we continue to just align ourselves with only right wing political causes, we will fail this generation. If when others of a different political persuasion cry out for help and we opt for simply “preaching the gospel” we do a disservice to the very gospel we claim to proclaim. Because the gospel will change hearts, but institutional and systems remain. So a wholistic approach demands that the gospel of Christ address the needs of hearts and institutions. We can and should do both.
I absolutely believe that Jesus is the answer for the world. It is because I believe that He is the answer, I continue to speak up. I certainly believe Jesus would. The gospel has implications for every aspect of our lives, not just the hereafter. So if we are indeed the body of Christ then we should be active in seeking to bring about reconciliation. This starts with listening to those who are crying out. We shouldn’t dismiss them. We shouldn’t project our own thoughts and ideas upon them. We should listen, learn, and change.
In this moment, we all feel the growing pains of change. But in the excitement of the moment we must realize that we still have much work to do. External change may come quickly and I pray that it does. But that does not excuse me from continuing to do the daily work on my heart and mind.
As Tish Harrison Warren points out in Liturgy of the ordinary, “My subculture of evangelicalism tends to focus on excitement, passion, and risk, the kind of worship that gives a rush. Eugene Peterson calls this quest for spiritual intensity a consumer driven ‘market for religious experience in our world.’ He says that ‘there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness. Religion in our times been captured by a tourist mindset…. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow to expand our otherwise humdrum life.”
We cannot be mere tourist, standing on the sidelines as the world changes. In the spirit of Jeremiah 29, we must “seek the peace of the city.” In order to achieve that peace we must first recognize the depth of the problems.
The world is watching. History is being recorded. The questions remains will be become the change the world needs?