Over the past year, I’ve received several questions on the issue of ethnicity. Some ask, “What should I do? I think the elders at my church have gone woke.” Others ask, “What should I do? My church is going through the latest book on ‘racial reconciliation,’ and it sounds like a Christianized version of Critical Race Theory.” While I do my best to respond to each message, the influx of thousands of these kinds of questions makes it difficult to answer everyone’s email. My hope in the next few blog articles is to respond, at length, to some of the more challenging questions I have received.
In this blog article, I will cover one of the questions I get most often from pastors, “Should I address racism from the pulpit?” Before I respond to the question, I want to address a few issues.
First, I recognize this question comes primarily from white pastors. How do I know? Well, as someone who been a part of the Black Church for years, I realize that many black pastors don’t have a problem addressing racism. However, the vast majority of black pastors address racism from a position of oppression rather than as a sin that can also reside in the heart of those listening to their sermon. Few black pastors spend sleepless nights finding themselves hand-wringing over the problem of racism as a sin demonstrated in the daily lives of their congregants. Since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, black communities have fed on a steady diet of “…the 11:00 hour on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America.” For the average black pastor leading a predominately black congregation, in their estimation, King’s statement is not their problem. They believe that issue is for the white evangelical church down the road to be solving. The all-black congregation is doing just fine, and that is their pitfall.
Second, I know that many of these pastors are afraid to say the wrong thing or, worse yet, say the right thing but with the wrong tone and be considered racist. So, as I receive these questions, I recognize there’s much more to consider than merely the straightforward question being asked. Here’s what should be considered before addressing racism from the pulpit.
Exposition or Topical Sermon
Preaching consecutively through books of the Bible is the best way to be devoted to faithful exposition. The question then becomes, should a pastor pause the expositional study of a book of the Bible to address a topical issue? It is possible to preach on a topic that is genuinely an expositional treatment of a text.
When it comes to addressing cultural issues like race, the danger for preachers is searching for a text to support what he already wants to say rather than allowing the text to drive the sermon. To do this is called “soapbox preaching” and should be avoided. That said, there are times when it is entirely appropriate for a pastor to pause his exposition through a biblical book and preach on a topic with God’s Word still driving the sermon. For example, after a great national tragedy like September 11, 2001, it made sense to speak to one’s congregation with a sermon from God’s Word appropriate for the occasion. It would lack wisdom and sensitivity to the congregation to press on through Luke’s genealogy during such a crisis.
With that said, a pastor could easily argue that a sermon on understanding racism from a biblical perspective is needed in our present hour. Though he must be diligent to present himself “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Say What the Bible Says
Once the decision to address racism is clear, it’s crucial to begin the subject of race and ethnicity through biblical categories. Scripture is sufficient to clearly and effectively address this subject. The delivery of a topical sermon is not the time to appeal to hashtag hermeneutics or social justice slogans.
Racism through a biblical lens would go something like this: There is one human race (Genesis 1:27). All of humanity comes from one man–Adam–and includes many ethnicities (Acts 17:26). Sin enters the world and corrupts our relationship with God and with one another (Genesis 3:1–5; 12–13). Racism is ethnic hatred, and hatred of an image-bearer of God is sin. Hatred of your brother is as the sin of murder, and a murderer will not inherit eternal life (1 John 3:15). Sin impacts us systemically (Romans 5:12), and no one is immune to sin’s effect (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23) and divides us from one another (Ephesians 2:12). The beauty of the gospel is that while our work is insufficient to inherit eternal life (Ephesians 2:8–9), this free gift is available through repentance and belief in the finished work of Christ (Romans 10:9–10). Through Christ, true reconciliation has been made (Ephesians 2:8–9, 13), and for those in Him, we are one with Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Yes But…What about
It’s at this point that I can hear some saying, “Yes, but what about…, and what about…?” To that, I’d say, either you believe Scripture is sufficient to address the issue of racism, or you don’t. If you don’t, then please leave the pulpit. We have far too many on platforms believing they know better than God on the issues of race. These same men appeal to artificial godless philosophies as “analytical tools” on these issues. Today, we see many pastors trust government solutions more than the sanctifying work of the gospel in the life of the believer.
Be Faithful to Fulfill your Ministry
Pastors should remember that all sins are sensitive to the sinner. So yes, racism can be a sensitive subject. Allow God’s Word to confront the matters of the heart. Take yourself out of the problem. My encouragement to you is the same that Paul would charge Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1–5).
While ethnic hatred is not new, the combination of White guilt, Black outrage, and the historic narrative of slavery and Jim Crow in America have combined with a new movement to create a lens from which daily events are now viewed. This subject is not going away. So, it’s important to face the issue head-on. This reality requires pastors who are unafraid to bring the light of the gospel to people in desperate need of the Savior.