Are evangelicals in denial about racism?

Barna Group released dispiriting survey results last week regarding evangelical attitudes about racism in America. If the church is to truly be a force of racial reconciliation, it appears we have some work to do.

For the study, Barna researchers interviewed some 2,000 adults about racial tension in the United States. They found that evangelicals were almost twice as likely as the general population to agree strongly that “racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present.” Evangelicals were also more than twice as likely to “strongly disagree” that people of color are socially disadvantaged because of race.

These opinions stand in stark contrast to the stated experience of most African-Americans, ranging from those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement to President Barack Obama. While such testimonies speak to pervasive racism in America, the Barna study suggests that a disproportionate number of evangelicals underestimate the problem.

Brooke Hempell, vice president of research at Barna, put it this way: “More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African-American brothers and sisters. This is a dangerous reality for the modern church. Jesus and His disciples actively sought to affirm and restore the marginalized and obliterate divisions between groups of people. Yet, our churches and ministries are still some of the most ethnically segregated institutions in the country.”

Here at TC, we’ve seen evidence of this evangelical perspective in the negative responses to recent articles on Kendrick Lamar and Harriet Tubman, both of which touched on issues of racism and Christian social justice. Coupled with the Barna findings, this is a reality that should be deeply concerning for a church that is called to embrace and model Christ’s message of reconciliation.

There is hope. The Barna study also reports that three-quarters of Americans agree “Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation.” And so, even though there appears to be a disproportionately large and vocal number of people in the church who underestimate the reality of racism, the vast majority of people in the general population still think the church plays an important role in working toward a solution.

Looking back at the work of the church in the Civil Rights movement, as well as social-justice efforts led by faith-based groups today, we can be encouraged in our pursuit of reconciliation, even in the face of this recent survey. How can we ensure that evangelicals become less likely than the average American to deny racism and more likely than the average American to recognize discrimination against people of color? If we can make that transition, the church will once again lead the effort toward reconciliation, rather than lag behind.

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Racism is a pervasive problem in society, but it can appear to have been solved when one chooses to live a nice quiet life consumed with thoughts that everybody could have it so nice if they just “knew Jesus”.

Lets not forget about ALL forms of racism.  Affirmative action is racism as well.

I appreciate this article and the study it references. As a young white male I am aware that there are blind spots in my human experience of which I am immediately disqualified to speak. I have to temper myself and the often knee jerk reaction I have to articles, news stories, and events in popular culture which are reactionary to what’s going on in the black community throughout the US. I believe the issue myself and many evangelical white Christians have is the dichotomy that is immediately projected by the media. Am I allowed to morn a young life lost too soon all while not making that individual a saint and the face of a movement that certainly is beyond him and his experience? I either have to concede that the Black Live’s Matter movement is correct or that I support Law Enforcement Officers. The conversation must be more nuanced and I must fight against the feeling to take a particular side and toss rocks back and forth. We should not be on the side of a particular movement, or of a particular establishment. We must view all people as God does. Imperfect, but deserving of the best He had, the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the conversation and the way it’s been approached in recent years has done more harm to any type of restoration than any solitary event.

Who says the church is supposed to be a force of racial reconciliation? Show me that in Scripture. The church is to seek those called by God to be believers and to present the gospel to the world. All these politically correct goals are diversions from evangelism and the offer of hope to mankind through Jesus Christ.

Bill, so you think Affirmative Action is a former of racism? 

To fully understand the problem of racism, one first has to understand the problem of power.  As a matter of fact, one of the first concepts that is essential to understand is the racism is prejudice and the unjust use of power.

Now few people that I know think they have any power over others, let alone blacks or other minorities.  This aspect alone is very difficult to see in a modern society that says everybody is equal.

However, this was not true as far back as the founding of our country when Americans had the right to own anot her person and laws were written into the body of laws that said it was not only okay but this ownership should continue. 

As you may understand, when a law is passed, it has an effect upon the people in the former of other laws that become necessary because of the first law. 

However, what is more heinous are the social effects of laws being passed.  These affect the attitude and lead to certain people leaning to see that they are in charge and others learn that they are not.  Hence, the concept of white privilege is born and grows. 

So, Reverse racism is not as possible as blacks did not have power to make their own lives.

Joshua,

Keep struggling, it is good for the soul. God seems to be talking to you.

Might I also add that while you struggle, talk with other people so that struggle may be shared. 

Racism is not the fault of one individual.  It began with many and will end by the efforts of many.  Love God and Love your neighbor as you Love yourself. 

Michael,

There is probably no simpler answer to give than the fact that it was Jesus Himself who gave the double love commandment. 

Jesus,you may agree, knew about the existence of different races.  He also knew that certain friction existed between groups such as the Samaritans and the Jews.  So tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which was guaranteed to disturb the views of the Holy people of that day.

That parable is a good one to examine when trying to understand hatred between two people.  Might I recommend an in depth, scholaristically based Bible Study?

In Reply to Michael Ridenhour (comment #28206)
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I agree that the reference to 2 Cor 5:18-20 above is a bit misleading and requires some qualification. The specific “reconciliation” that Paul is talking about there is the restoration of a right relationship between God and the sinner. In the context of that pericope, the “message of reconciliation” that Christ has “committed to us” is not a message of social justice, strictly speaking. It’s the kerygma of the gospel: that, in Christ, we who are far from God in sin have an opportunity to be reconciled to Him. And that message is to be the central statement about which our identity as the church revolves. Everything we do should flow from an obedience to share that message as broadly as possible.

So it would be a mistake to try taking that Scripture (and it’s not the only one, either) as a proof-text for social justice. That’s simply not what Paul is saying, and he would be appalled to see what happens in some sectors of the church, where we get so preoccupied with social justice that we neglect to—or, indeed, are AFRAID to—tell people what they most need to hear: that they’re sinners in desperate need of the Savior.

Nevertheless, I do think there is a biblical case for the church being an agent of racial reconciliation, at least inasmuch as it means working for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ while we’re all sojourners on this side of glory. We’re commanded by the One who saves us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—that, indeed, this is second only to our love for God and is the concrete way we demonstrate our alignment with God’s inbreaking kingdom. Social justice without salvation is empty; but salvation that doesn’t issue in a desire to work for the good of others is, I think, pretty suspect. Because if we desire to please God, ANYTHING that divides God’s people or perpetuates injustice ought to be a cause for the church’s concern, even if the specific expression of that concern is a matter for discussion.

I do agree with others than either/or dichotomies are damaging, and more nuance is needed in our treatments of race and the church. I don’t know if it will be of much interest to anyone else, but I found this article to be a good starting point for me:

https://www.covenantseminary.edu/the-thistle/bound-together-racial-reconciliation-begins-in-the-church-jerram-barrs/

In Reply to Michael Ridenhour (comment #28206)
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Your question seems to have been partly answered by the commenters above, Michael, so instead I’ll pose a couple of questions to you: Why wouldn’t the church want to be a force for racial reconciliation? Couldn’t such efforts in fact be a way of presenting the Gospel - a “hope to mankind through Jesus Christ,” as you say?

There is an entirely different way to interpret the statistics cited by this articles than this article has.

  1) Evangelicals vote or align with the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by a higher ratio even than the disparity in the answers to the racial questions cited in this article.

  2) Every since the early 1960’s, the Democrats have successfully courted the “black vote” and have used it as a significant factor in their political successes, to the point that today, the Democrats must get a very high proportion of the black vote to win national elections.

The Democrats’ past and current political strategy for getting a high percentage of the black vote is to emphasize and re-emphasize (I would say “overstate”) a variety of divisions, real or otherwise, and then characterize one side of the division as victims, and then promise they will provide those victims with relief from government.  In other words, exaggerating racial divides gets Democrats votes, and lots of them.

If the above is true, and I think it clearly is, then be the kind of disparity in the answers given to the racial questions cited in these article makes sense.  BUT, the truth to take away is perhaps not that “evangelicals are in denial about racism” (a presumptuous, begs-the-question title to begin with), but that “evangelicals have a more realistic perspective about race issues.”

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