This is an open letter to pastors of white-lead evangelical churches across America. While some have leaned in during this time and taken a distinctly anti-racist stance, many have been silent, and many have taken a stance, only to tone it back down after receiving push-back from their white congregants. It’s time to take a stand!
A Quote from MLK
On April 16, 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned the following words from a Birmingham Jail, addressed to fellow clergy:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
On May 25, 2020, over 57 years later, George Floyd was murdered over a period of 8 minutes and 46 seconds by four policemen in Minneapolis. On March 16, 2020, at the beginning of COVID-19 taking hold in America, President Donald Trump announced a two-week period to attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve and churches across the nation were shuttered. Since that time, this pandemic has killed over half a million people worldwide and over 134,000 in America alone. The percentage of the black population dead is over twice that for white people and the mortality rate is 3.8 times as high (https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race).
Levels of Racism
As I speak with fellow white Christians, the statement that I’ve heard over and over is “I’m not racist!” However, let’s consider racism on a continuum instead of true/false.
These are the KKK, White Nationalists, people who utter racial slurs against black people, and cops who murder them in cold blood. To be clear, while we may have some racist people in our churches, I think most are not racist by this definition.
These are the people MLK was referring to as “white moderates” in the quote above. They aren’t racist. They aren’t teaching their children that black people are less than human, they don’t boycott black businesses, and they don’t yell racial slurs. They don’t make life worse for black people, but they don’t make it better. They stay in their lane. They consider being black to be the cross that black people have to bear, and they offer to help carry it when requested. Maybe sometimes they preach a message about the evils of racism or create a committee to improve things.
These are the people who are fighting against racism, as if their own lives depended on it. They “remember…those who are mistreated as if [they themselves] were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3). These are Christians who live 1 Cor 12:26, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 61:1, and Matthew 25:34-40. These people aren’t content to say that they don’t boycott black businesses, they are actively looking for black businesses to patronize. They aren’t content to say that they are low risk for COVID and not wear a mask, they are going to wear a mask to protect their brothers and sisters who have 3.8X the mortality rate they do. They don’t just offer to help carry the cross of being black, they say “God didn’t give you this cross, where did it come from, and how do we destroy it?”
As I look at our churches, I see not “Not Racist” churches everywhere. However, almost 60 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr condemned “not racist” as not good enough, we should, we must, do better. As Christians, we must take it upon ourselves to break the bonds of injustice off our brothers and sisters who have been in bondage, in a Babylon we and our ancestors have controlled, for far too long. We must throw caution to the wind, dump “Not Racist” onto the ash heap of history, and be “Anti-Racist” until we can truly say that Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream has come true, that we live in a nation where we are judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.