This week, a Latino community leader in a major Southern city told me about a white Christian woman in his city who contacted him asking for someone to help clean her house. He recommended a Mexican woman to her who went to her house daily, worked and cleaned faithfully. The white Christian woman paid the Mexican woman in cash under the table to no taxes were taken out and nothing was reported. The Mexican woman was then caught in an ICE raid and was detained and sent away for deportation. The Latino community leader was heartbroken about this and worried for her family left behind. He received a phone call from the white Christian woman who hired her and appreciated her work in cleaning her home. He expected the white Christian woman to express concern for the Mexican woman who had been detained and sent away for deportation and to express concern for her family left behind. But, what the white Christian woman in the Southern city said next floored him. With no concern for the Mexican woman or her family at all, she simply asked,
“Can you send me another?”
That was this week.
The last couple of weeks have seen major Evangelical conferences addressing issues of Race, Justice, and the Gospel of Christ in MLK50Conference and then Together For the Gospel, 2018. Major, historic sermons have been preached by Russell Moore, Charlie Dates, David Platt, and Ligon Duncan, among others. Reflections on past sins (both personal and structural) and how the past shaped the institutions and theology that we presently inhabit were discussed as well as how we can address these historic fissures and move forward together in the future in cruciform ways. These discussions have been good and needed. And, of course, there has been pushback with denials, accusations of “cultural Marxism”
Ligon Duncan at the recent Together for the Gospel, 2018, preached a message entitled, The Whole in Our Holiness (Video|Transcript). In that message, he makes an application to applying the Second of the Greatest Commandments to Historic Racial Division in the Church. He says,
Racial tensions in our churches and our nation would be in a significantly better state if the Reformed community in America in the 19th and 20th centuries had rightly applied the second great commandment. But tragically, the Reformed community—my community, our community—devised ways to delimit the second great commandment. On the other hand, our British brothers and sisters condemn our blindness. Charles Spurgeon refused to commune with slaveholders. The Scottish Presbyterians refused to tolerate slave-holding or racist theology. Moreover, our Reformed community would have recognized its serious errors if it had simply listened to the voices of brave and brilliant Reformed African American theologians like Francis Grimke.
And yet, in America, Baptists and Presbyterians decided that slavery was too divisive an issue and therefore shouldn’t be addressed in the church—for the sake of “unity.” For the sake of preserving the “Spirituality of the Church,” matters of “politics” and “social life” were ignored. In reality, however, these church leaders and pastors were evading the second great commandment. Their logic was like the lawyer’s: “Let’s not divide the church over this. After all, who is my neighbor?”
Regrettably, this theological legacy lived on. Brothers, if you get antsy when you hear preachers applying the second great commandment to the issue of race in the church and in America then these theologians have taught you well. In my shame, I admit they taught me well—and it’s taken more than three decades for God to break through the blindness of my own heart on this issue (EDIT: he then said, “forgive me brothers”).
This isn’t about some social gospel. Of all the things that may concern you, don’t be concerned that Ligon Duncan grooves with cultural Marxism. Racial reconciliation in the church is fundamentally about the dadgum second great commandment.
Marty Duren had a tweet thread earlier this week about spiritual myopia and white evangelicals:
Over the past couple of weeks, high-profile white evangelical pastors have preached strong sermons on race and justice. With these sermons (and convos around them) have come confessions to having overlooked the importance of justice as a part of the gospel of Christ. Confessions have come in sermons, articles, and social media. One pastor confessed to have preached a “truncated” gospel. While there has been pushback from some who continue to insist racial reconciliation is not an issue related to the gospel of Christ, support for these confessions has been deep and wide. That’s good.
Here’s the problem: Black pastors have been preaching justice as part-and-parcel of the gospel for a long, long time. They preached it during slavery days. They preached it during Reconstruction. They preached it after Reconstruction. They preached it during Jim Crow. They preached it during the Civil Rights era. They preached it after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. They have preached it since and to this very day. The problem isn’t simply that many white preachers preached a truncated gospel. The problem is we didn’t listen to the gospel as it was being preached all around us. Historically, too many didn’t preach *the* gospel because they were busy preaching *our* gospel, a gospel that conformed to our culture, preferences, and comfort. Many white American pastors didn’t preach against injustice because they’d never faced it and were not willing to listen to those who had and are. Our black brothers have—literally—for centuries been telling us these things are so. We *chose* not to listen to them. *White pastors* helped place the roadblocks. *White pastors* chose a truncated (and sometimes outright false) gospel. *White pastors* had the luxury of a “repent and believe” gospel that omitted or obfuscated the practical outworking of unity in Christ,brotherhood and sisterhood, equality, the obliteration of man-made categories, the breaking down of dividing walls, and the resulting peace in Christ. Too many white pastors were not willing to pursue peace with black brothers and sisters because it could cost them”peace” at home, at work, or at church.
But, ask yourself: what kind of “gospel” supports and protects chattel slavery, averts its eyes to the division of families, the rape of enslaved women, flogging human beings, the sale of mixed-race offspring produced by slave-owners, murder, manipulation, plunder, and man-stealing? That’s the gospel of Christ?
I am thankful more people are more fully appreciating the gospel and its implications, and that the conversation is expanding. But, we should be honest that it shouldn’t have taken us this long, and that it was not the Spirit of God that caused ears to be dull to hearing the messengers he placed around us.
We are still struggling with these things, often because we fail to listen to those God sends to us to awaken us to what has happened and what is happening around us. The foundations of Evangelicalism in America, including the Southern Baptist Convention, were laid in the ground of racial oppression and injustice and we did not adequately confront it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His call for us to Love our Neighbor as Ourselves is the only solution to the historic trauma that has been wrought upon our nation. We are a people who can repent, reconcile, and restore relationships and systems with the love of Christ. But, we have to care about people and love them sacrificially (Philippians 2:1-5). We have to listen. We have to disciple and confront and help people understand that God made all people in His image and they all have worth and value and how we treat vulnerable people directly correlates to our knowledge of God and our understanding of the gospel itself. Grace received must be grace applied, not just to ourselves, but to others.
We have to listen to others of different ethnic/racial backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Voices have been speaking for a long time. Honestly, the protests of white pastors and church leaders when they say that they don’t want to hear about this anymore are irrelevant. There is so much pain out there, continuing division, and a lack of understanding of what people have experienced. We still have white Christians requesting another Mexican woman to come clean their house after the previous one was deported without stopping to consider or express empathy about what people are going through. This conversation is only just beginning. It isn’t overdone and talking about these things and how to solve them is not the source of the problem. We need to listen, both to God and to our neighbors whom God often speaks through.
We also need to know that there are still those asking, without acknowledging that we are dealing with real flesh and blood people, “can you send me another?”