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10 Top Reasons Racism Continues in the Church Today

Posted on October 27th, 2015

I’m excited to participate in Movement Day 2015 in New York City this coming Thursday to participate on a panel around a frank discussion on bridging barriers of race, culture, and class. In preparation, I thought I would get on paper my top 10 reasons of why racism continues in the church today. Here they are:

  1. Failure to capture Scripture’s vision of the church as a multi-racial community that transcends racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers. The gospel is the power of God that bridges the infinite gap between humanity and God as well as the “dividing wall” between races, cultures, ethnicities, social classes, and genders.
  2. Measuring success primarily by numbers. We want to grow our churches. We want it to happen quickly. The problem is that bridging racial barriers is slow and will rarely produce “big” numbers.
  3. Superficial discipleship. We focus on getting people “over the line” into salvation and connected. We don’t spend an equal amount of time equipping them to be deeply transformed in their interior lives. “Who can your child not marry?” The answer to that question tells us a lot about how deeply the gospel has penetrated a person’ life.
  4. Failure to break the power of the past. Sins like racism are passed on from generation to generation. At New Life we like to say, “Jesus may live in your heart but Grandpa lives in your bones.” Each of us – African American, Latino, White, Russian, Jew, Arab, Serbian, African, Chinese, Korean, and Pole – must take the journey of Abraham. We must decisively leave our family, our culture, and our country and learn to do life in the new family of Jesus.
  5. An inadequate, biblical theology of grief and loss. If I don’t deeply feel my own losses, how am I going to deeply enter the world of those who suffer the sting of racism? Trauma is passed from one generation to the next. We see this most powerfully in overwhelming historical events such as the Holocaust and slavery. Unresolved loss gets buried behind a curtain of silence, incubating fear and shame. Biblical grieving powerfully heals and transforms.
  6. Isolation. Most American Christians attend churches with people who look like they do, perpetuating a subculture of minimal contact with people of different races and cultures. As a result: “Despite devoting considerable time and energy to solving the problem of racial division, White evangelicalism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it.” Divided by Race: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Emerson/Smith.
  7. Naiveté regarding demonic powers and principalities. Evil, unclean spirits are real, feasting on the wounds of a split nation and church. To drive them involves us in a spiritual warfare beyond discussions and statistics. It calls for our following of Jesus to the cross.
  8. Lack of skills to love well. Learning to love well is among our most important tasks as Christ-followers.  Learning to listen, “fight” cleanly, and speak clearly and honestly (to name a few) are foundational for being a healthy community. Bridging barriers requires we create a new culture with a new language.  For this reason we developed Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0 out of our life together at New Life over our 29 year history.
  9. Obliviousness of systemic racism. Peggy McIntosh said it well: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”.
  10. Emotional Immaturity. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. To engage in this level of warfare without addressing people’s immaturities (e.g. unawareness, defensiveness, ignorance of how our families of origin impact us) is a sure recipe for further wounding and division.

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