The whole country is looking at Charlottesville, VA right now.
People are grieving, angry, and confused. But most pastors are wary about tackling racism from the pulpit. They are typically trained in seminary to stick to Scripture (expository preaching). Others have trouble deviating from feel-good themed messages. It’s not an easy topic to talk about when Sunday morning is likely still the most segregated hour of the week.
It’s no wonder that as racial tension wreaks havoc on the country, few churches are at the frontlines of reconciliation and restoration. This issue of justice needs to have a prominent place in church communities. Why? Because God didn’t merely ask his people to be just. Justice is core to the character of God.
Here are three steps pastors can take to respond to racism.
Acknowledge its existence within our congregation.
Let’s be honest. Racism exists within the church. A lot of racist people go to church. Pastors need to acknowledge this fact. It isn’t an issue of whether or not those people are “real” Christians or not. They are there just like other congregants, listening to the sermon. There’s a great opportunity to speak God’s truth to the very darkness that is consuming them. Just watch. The Holy Spirit will do its job because God is in the business of transforming lives. But this won’t happen until a church acknowledges it has a problem.
Address its root: fear.
Racism, like any sin, is rooted in fear. Behind the belief that somehow their race is superior, there is fear: fear that their jobs are being taken, fear that their way of life will vanish, fear of strange cultures, and fear of the unknown. Every evil act has its root in fear and everyone struggles with fear. Yes, pastors need to talk about how Jesus was Jewish, how all people are made in God’s image, and how Adam and Eve may have been from Iraq. But if pastors don’t help their racist congregants deal with their fears and how they respond to other people groups because of it, those walls of hate, denial, and anger will never collapse.
Remind the church who the enemy is.
It’s normal to see a swastika and think “enemy”. Especially when that swastika wearing psycho becomes violent. But the truth is that he is not the enemy. Satan is the real enemy. Jesus didn’t come to defeat sinners. He came to defeat Satan and sin itself. In fact, while He was being crucified, Jesus forgave His killers. This evil movement could very well get worse and more people may die. But the church is still called to view these “enemies”, as people loved by God, made in His image, terribly broken by darkness, and in desperate need of light. It’s not easy to do, but if evil were easily defeated, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come to earth and suffer. Until the society (and the church should take the lead) can view racists as human beings capable of love and good, but twisted by fear and darkness, this conflict will have no victors.
Race reconciliation will probably be an issue that defines the American church over the next decade or two. It’s a hard problem to solve but it’s going to start with the Church. The solution is to bring change and transformation to those with this hateful view. It is not simply about being correct.
So pastors, when preaching:
To the racist in the pew: Tell him not to fear. God can sustain him. There is no need to feel threatened by others and the Lord loves everyone equally.
To the social justice warrior in the front row: Tell him to be humble and that the battle is against darkness itself, not those in darkness. The Lord wants to see those filled with hate come to know His love and saving grace.
To everyone: God is sovereign; there’s no need to fear. Christ unites all people and Heaven is going to be really diverse and it will be beautiful beyond what you can imagine.