Racism in the Church and Inane FB Comments

On FB was an article “Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relationships” by Raymond Chang. It was shared by ChurchLeaders and Ed Stetzer, but originated in Christianity Today. I found it to be a rather nice article— a bit too benign if anything on race relations in Evangelicalism.

I am an American “white evangelical.” However, I am atypical of this group since I am part of a multiracial marriage and having multiracial kids. I also attend a non-white church in a non-white country. To me Revelation 7 describes an ideal— with people of every tribe, nation, race, and tongue worshiping God together. Unity with Diversity. I might even argue that the passage describes Unity empowered by Diversity.

I thought it might be interesting to read the FB comments. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I won’t quote any, singling any out, but I would like to give some comments to some.

  • One suggested that it was a silly thing to bring up… that “white evangelicalism” is a made up term, and that these “peripheral cultural arguments” lead to divisions. I would say that all terms are made up… the question is whether a term is useful or not. In the US at least, the term seems useful. It is less so where I live here in the Philippines. I must say though that culture is NOT peripheral and is NEVER peripheral. Culture wasn’t peripheral in the book of Acts, and cultural issues were faced squarely, not ignored. Dealing with the issues prevents divisions… not ignoring them. Ignored problems tend to become BIG PROBLEMS.
  • One commenter noted that blacks are racist as well and are part of the division in the Church. Well of course they are. That’s why what is suggested is Dialogue. Dialogue is two-way conversation. Anyone who thinks that Dialogue involves one side accusing and the other side apologizing over and over again either doesn’t know what dialogue is, or doesn’t take dialogue seriously.
  • More than one suggested that this is “Affirmative Action” for the church. Another suggested that this was Christianity Today “going liberal.” I know it is always fun to rile up political conservatives by throwing around words they absolutely hate such as “Affirmative Action,” “liberal,” “Obamacare” and such. (They make it so easy sometimes.) But first, this is an article of theology, ministry, and religion, not political science. (There is surprisingly little  connection between “conservative theology” and “American conservative politics.”). Second, shaking the political ant farm may be fun, but is ultimately a misdirect. The one who said it was CT “going liberal” may have meant theologically liberal, but I cannot see how dialogue should be seen as the domain of liberal Christianity. Does that mean that conservative Christianity is the domain for polemics and apologetics only?
  • A different respondent was a bit more direct speaking of the article in line with a “leftist” political agenda, and then as a non-sequitur brought up that we are not nice enough to Israel and too nice to Muslim refugees. (I wonder how mean Jesus really wants us to be to Muslim refugees?)
  • Another suggested that “White Evangelicalism” is a divisive term. I suppose one might make the argument that it is a racially insensitive term (like the Washington Redskins) but I see it as identifying a divide more than denigrating a group. That divide does exist, and that divide is not something created by language. It already existed. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Since the divide exists in a statistically relevant way, the real question is whether the term “White Evangelicalism” is a good term to identify the disunity. That, frankly, I honestly don’t know.
  • One noted that we should get people truly born again and filled with the Holy Spirit and this would become a non-issue. Is there evidence that this is true, or is this simply another attempt to justify a lack of interest to address injustice and inequity?  I certainly like the hopeful sentiment, but again the book of Acts showed a lot of born-again people with the Holy Spirit struggling in how to embrace diversity of culture in the church. While the Spirit of God bridged the gap through allowing the disciples to communicate with those of other languages in Acts 2, the rest of the book involved struggles. This includes struggles between Hellenstic and Hebraic Jews in Jerusalem, what to do with Samaritans who come to faith, what to do with Roman and Greek respondents, and how to contextualize the faith to animists, pagans and Gentile philosophers. Living in the Spirit is a good start, but Acts 15 describes a church that chose to wrestle with the issue rather than describe it as irrelevant.
  • At least one suggested that there are only two groups that matter in Christianity… those filled with the Holy Spirit and those who are carnal. As enticing as reductionism and dualism is, the Bible simply does not discount diversity within the unity of faith. When Paul said that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor Gentile, nor Male nor Female, Paul was not suggesting they were not issues. If they were not issues, he would not mention them. He mentioned these groups because they DO matter because churches struggle with them.
  • Some noted that their church is multi-ethnic and they don’t see those problems describing their context. I suppose I could say that as well since I am a “white American” part of a multi-ethnic (majority non-white) non-American congregation with completely non-white pastoral staff. But I have seen the problems the writer was concerned with, and I suspect you have too.

I am actually a member of two churches. I am a member of a predominantly white church in the US, and a predominantly non-white church in the Philippines. I have had American white Evangelicals assume, for example, that I share their political opinions because I am a white Evangelical. A very bad assumption. Why would they make such a foolish assumption. Because they think that they know me because they know what label should stick to me. Labels like White Evangelical matter because people think they do, and act as if they do. I have never had non-white Evangelicals assume I share their political opinions even though I am part of a non-white church. Does that mean that they are more open-minded than the others. Maybe not.

In the end, we REALLY need to talk… and not with inane comments on FB.

I think this is a good place to stop.

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