Dr. Tony Evans wrote a remarkable article where he said this about the problem of race, injustice, and human dignity in America: “The biggest problem in the culture today is the failure of the church.” What I appreciate about Dr. Evans is his conviction to think so highly of the Church, highly enough to hold it responsible. When “the culture” is always the problem, the Church will never see itself as responsible. Jesus have given the Church his commands, and therefore the grace to obey them. We are responsible.
A friend recently asked me how our society should begin to address systemic racism. I’m the wrong person to ask. It is a complex task. I believe we need people who are experts in vocations representative of many communities. We need lawyers, city planners, law enforcement, social workers, housing developers, business owners and more.
The complexity of that work does not diminish the responsibility of the Church to proclaim the gospel with conviction and to love our neighbor with compassion. Today, the work of addressing racism must and can begin in the Church. This has always been with us.
Did the early church address systemic racism?
Within the first few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, the early church had to address partiality within one of it’s own ministry systems. Acts 6:1 tells us that, as the church was growing, there was a problem with the food distribution ministry. Greek-speaking Jewish widows were getting less than Hebrew-speaking widows. Greek speaking Jews were seen as less than and culturally compromised. So systemic partiality was the outcome of cultural prejudice.
So what happened? The leaders of the Church recognized their responsibility had grown beyond their capacity. The gospel needed to be preserved and the food needed to be equitably distributed. They could not achieve both themselves, yet both were a priority: doctrine and justice. The answer? New leaders. They appointed a team to ensure justice towards the widows.
Can the American Church address systemic racism?
Yes. We have the responsibility to preserve the conviction of the gospel for the next generation, and to live with compassion towards our neighbors. Conviction and compassion can go hand in hand, yet this work begins in our pews, on our staffs, and in our hearts. This inward outward movement can ripple into society at large when the society of the Church grapples with its own complicity in the past, and responsibility in the future.
Here are some questions the American church can begin to ask that lead us to reflection and action.
- Historically, why do minority churches exist? The black church would not exist if the white Church had, by and large, rejected slavery & segregation.
- Structurally, does partiality exist in the Church’s ministry models? Church leadership? Is the Church healthy enough to recognize if this were not so?
- Theologically, does the Church connect righteousness and justice to the gospel explicitly? Do Christians have a framework of life in Jesus’ Kingdom?
- Culturally, are Churches willing to accommodate other cultural styles & expressions in Sunday worship? To not only accommodate styles, but also give platform parity to minority leaders?
- Spiritually, will we partner with God to empower leaders who increase our capacity for justice in our communities?