A response to the sermon preached by Pastor Luke MacDonald titled Church & Race: A White Perspective for White Evangelicals. This video was posted on YouTube on June 26, 2020. This was a little over a month after George Floyd’s death and right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. By this time the world witnessed the unrest and chaos in our communities. Buildings would be burned and vandalized during the night. Law enforcement was attacking anyone not wearing a police uniform in the locations they were patrolling, including the press and even a 75-year-old man in Buffalo, New York.
I picked this video for two reasons.
- It was high in the YouTube search result when I entered the words “church” and “race”.
- The video is less than an hour long so I’m not breaking my rule! Not yet anyway…-
I don’t know Luke MacDonald. I’ve never seen or heard any of his other sermons. If Luke is a wolf in sheep's clothing, then I apologize for promoting his platform. Even so, who Luke is as a person shouldn’t be relevant to this writing. The point of my response to this sermon and others like it, is to keep a pulse on how the church is responding to racial issues and try to explain or even understand how I feel about these responses.
In Luke’s introduction he explains that his perspective is that of a white male’s and therefore is limited. He went on to explain that if we are to gain a greater understanding of the racial issues in our society, then we need to get perspectives from several people with several different types of perspectives. I think Luke’s right, but I want to add this idea. As long as the speaker recognizes that racism is evil and is willing to fight against it, then the speaker’s voice is needed and their perspective, though by itself incomplete, is valuable. The scripture Luke uses in this sermon is Ephesians chapter 2:12-16. Special emphasis is given to verse 14 in his sermon, For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
The rest of the sermon is divided in three areas.
- How We Got Here
- Why It’s Hard to Fix It
- Suggested Solutions
There are some historical markers Luke asks us to consider in the first portion of his sermon, How We Got Here. Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. Luke points out that each time our society got past one of these markers, many people would tend to believe that the problem of racism had been solved. I have friends in evangelical circles that would argue that what it means to be racist has changed over time. For example, being racist during the Civil Rights movement means to resist integration or to sick dogs on peaceful protestors. Compared to today’s time, where being racist means using racial slurs in a way that is not sarcastic enough to be past off as jovial. The belief that what can be considered racist will change over time implies that the angst in our society is not caused by racism, but by changing demographics. I’ve heard it asked, if everyone in the same room shared the same race, can racism exist in that room. I’ll put it another way, is racism a sin issue or a social issue? In our society, it is white men who are usually given the right to decide the answer to this question. Critical Race Theory tries to undo this by giving the deciding power to the people who are oppressed by racism, but this has been mostly rejected by Christians in America. Really spiritual brothers and sisters might suggest that Christ has some practical answers that we can act on now. But sadly, it's a strange thing to talk about race inside the church, just like it's a strange thing to talk about Christ outside of it.
The first section of the sermon wraps up by discussing systemic racism. The racism in policing, the criminal justice system, education funding, and housing, were all explained a little in the sermon with some statistics and stories. There are other resources that explain these issues more in depth and how they impact our world today, like The Color Of Compromise written by Jemar Tisby.
The church has been unable to fight against systemic racism in America because of its own sins. Even as Luke explains systemic racism, I can feel the familiar expressions of doubt coming from my brothers and sisters in Christ. How can something that happened a generation or more ago, have such an impact on today's world that it prevents African Americans from obtaining the American dream? Or, are we in danger of over exaggerating the impact of systemic racism and promoting a sort of victim mentality by acknowledging it? I think about the Hellenistic Jews in Acts chapter 6. Imagine if the Twelve would have asked the widows to provide statistics, or told them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Instead, the problem was prayed about, acted on, and solved by verse 6.
The early believers in Acts were amazing people who through faith had real power. They loved one another so much that they sold all their belongings so everyone could be provided for. They loved truth so much that they were willing to lay down their lives for it. If we are to be like the early believers in this way, then how do we justify the picture Head of Christ by Warner Sallman? In the sermon, Luke asserts that this false image of Christ has led many to believe that Jesus is a white god for white people. What does it say about our reverence for Christ that not only do we knowingly pronounce his name in a way that he wouldn’t have, but we also portray him as a person he would have looked nothing like? And what does it do to our own souls when we disregard Christ’s heritage and ethnicity as something that can be set aside for comfort and familiarity? What hope do we have for racial harmony amongst God’s people in America, if even Christ must shed away his Jewishness to join the table of whiteness? This observation may serve as an encouragement to brothers and sisters of color, if we look at this through the right lens. If the world forces you to strip yourself of your own ethnicity, remember the world did it to Christ first.
The Cross is Heavy
In the Why It’s Hard to Fix portion of the sermon, Luke explains five of the things that he believes make it hard for us to fix the racial problems in our society.
- The political divide amongst black and white Christians
- The historical passivity of the white church
- The large church economy
- Theological arrogance
- The human tendency to put people in groups and then lower that group's value as people.
There are many resources available that explain each of these in greater depth.
I’m a late comer to the evangelical church, I didn’t come onto the scene until I was about 25 years old. Naively, I was shocked in 2020 to find out that it’s a rule for evangelical Christians to vote for Republicans. Who made that rule? I’m not saying that the Democratic party is any better or worse than the Republican party because I don’t believe that. What I did believe is that one of the goals of church is diversity. What I know is that the church doesn’t do diversity well. My guess is because the church doesn’t understand diversity, and because of our pride we choose not to explore the beauty of it. We do the same thing with the Holy Trinity. Within the Godhead there is diversity, but still, the Lord is One! The beautiful and exciting thing about this is that it’s not a contradiction! My very underqualified attempt to explain the Trinity goes far beyond the scope of this writing, but I bring it up as a reminder to my brothers and sisters. If the very nature of God is diverse, then how can diversity oppose unity? And if God is somehow both unity and diversity, is this not something that we need to pursue while on earth?
Having a truly diverse church that in its unity reflects the beauty of the Triune God is something Christians have yet to achieve. The sermon highlights theological arrogance as one of the roadblocks that have tripped us up in recent times. Obviously, we need to repent of this sin, but I don’t think those with seminary degrees are the only ones who fall into it. I have seen over the past year Christians, all in the name of Jesus, speak out against critical race theory and Black Lives Matter very defiantly, while showing grace to rioters in the U.S. Capitol building. I think some of this not only can be blamed on our arrogance but also by our tendency to dehumanize image bearers by putting them in groups separate than our own. We can’t see ourselves in the black kids spray painting walls or throwing rocks through business windows but can see ourselves in rioters holding signs that directly contradict their actions. We need to pick up our cross and see all our neighbors the way we see ourselves.
Luke ends the sermon with some ideas of how we can have racial harmony in our world. I want to discuss the questions Luke encourages white evangelicals never to ask. The what about, what did I do wrong, and why can’t we just move on, questions. I think to say never ask these questions is a bit heavy handed, but these questions NEED to be asked with wisdom. It’s very easy to take a “what about” question and pervert it into something that doesn’t serve to uncover the truth but to justify our own sin. The Pharisees once asked Jesus a “what about” question about taxes (Mark 12: 13 - 17) so be careful.
The sermon also explains a little about what it means to be anti-racist. Luke tells a story about a racially insensitive joke he told his dad and his dad rebuking him for it. Many of my brothers and sisters who would call themselves conservative, would say that we’re living in a cancel-culture. I think this mostly means that we live in a time where we're not allowed to make the sort of mistakes that would cause harm to women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, or others. I’m not sure why this is a problem for Christians. We should be making every effort to grow in self-control, knowledge, and love (2 Peter 1:5-11). We’re not doing this when using words like kung-flu to refer to Covid-19, and we’re not doing this when we allow someone else to do it either. For the love of Christ, we have to be anti-racist.
The last thing I want to talk about in this post is the idea of being local in our fight against racism. This means to begin forming relationships with people of a different ethnicity than yours, or by going to places where your ethnic group is typically not. This is probably the scariest suggestion made in the sermon. When we step out of our comfort zone, we risk offending someone or even worse, looking stupid. I’ve been confronted with this risk myself in certain instances of my life. I have to report that I did offend, and I did look very stupid too. These have been painful experiences for me, but I always survived and grew! The awkwardness in these encounters usually served as a kind of conduit to a deeper relationship with the person I was speaking with, which is ultimately the goal of our Father in Heaven.
I encourage you to join groups like Hearts Broken Eyes Open, or to form your own group where you can help one another do some of these hard things and hold one another accountable. I think the sermon was okay, especially considering how quickly it was delivered after the death of George Floyd. I’m encouraged that more and more Christians are recognizing that racism is a problem in our world and that the Spirit is moving the body to begin acting, even if the action is just talking. We know that the time will come when talking will not be enough. Perhaps that time is now.
Charles Kolstad is a mixed (half black & white), male. Husband, father, software developer, and loved by Christ. He loves Minnesota and loves people… and the Timberwolves. Pretty much just a normal guy!