For the sake of the gospel, not politics

Race Issues | The role of pastors and lay people in seeking racial reconciliation
by Daniel Darling & George Yancey
Posted 2/09/19, 09:30 am

In today’s politically charged climate, some advocates of racial reconciliation lump together that great need with controversial political policies and positions. On Feb. 1, though, the first day of Black History Month, I ran across two gospel-centric articles that explain how Christians, both pastors and lay people, can help to heal America’s racial wounds for the sake of the gospel—without the political baggage.

Daniel Darling, vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who I plan to interview for WORLD Magazine in April, wrote the first, originally published in Lifeway Pastors in 2015. The second is an InterVarsity Press interview with George Yancey, a University of North Texas professor. (Also see my interview with him from 2015.) We are republishing both by permission.

Daniel and George would also say, I suspect, that man’s work alone won’t break down walls of separation. As the great hymn proclaims, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” But our efforts might remove one brick in the wall. —Marvin Olasky

Facebook/Daniel Darling Facebook/Daniel Darling Daniel Darling

The role of pastors

by Daniel Darling

How do individual, local churches begin to embody racial reconciliation in their own communities? It must begin, I believe, with pastors—particularly white pastors—prioritizing it in their preaching and teaching. Those called to teach the Bible carry a weighty responsibility (James 3:1) to feed the people of God (1 Peter 5:2-4).

I didn’t fully recognize this until I became a pastor. It was while serving my congregation that I realized the influence of the office. Church members value what their pastor values. In many ways, they depend on their church leaders to help them understand what is and what should be important. Those of us who spend our working hours analyzing the news, reading theology, and learning from a variety of sources help filter these things for church members who are busy working long hours, raising their families, and doing their best to study the Word and evangelize.

Church members value what their pastor values.

For most white evangelical pastors, racial reconciliation hasn’t been a primary emphasis of their teaching. This may be for a variety of reasons. First, as the majority culture, white Christians don’t feel the sting of prejudice. It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second, there is likely some fear of addressing race. Racial issues are delicate. Pastoral leadership is already a tightrope act; why stir up more trouble? Third, it could be that pastors might view racial reconciliation as a worthy goal, but not a gospel issue. Russell Moore reminds us that it is: “The church, the Apostle Paul said, is a sign of God’s manifold wisdom, to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). When God joined together in one church, those who are both Jewish and Gentile, he was doing more than negating the bad effects of ethnic strife. He was declaring spiritual warfare. When those who the world thinks should hate each other, instead love each other, the church is testifying that our identity is in Jesus Christ (Col. 3:11). We cannot be pulled apart from each other, because we are one body, and a body that is at war with itself is diseased.”

So how do pastors begin to preach on racial reconciliation in a gospel-centered way? Here are three ways I’ve found helpful in my own ministry and in observing the ministries of others:

1. By faithful exposition of the Scriptures

The best way, in my view, to embed the priority of racial reconciliation into the everyday lives of our people is through the faithful application of the text. By this I mean through expository preaching. I’m a firm believer in the systematic, Jesus-centered preaching of whole counsel of God. The task of a pastor is to declare what God has already said in His Word.

Racial reconciliation is not something that has to be forced onto the text. In fact, if you are preaching systematically through Scripture and you do not preach on it, you might be skipping it. The thrust of God’s promise to Abraham and the promises to Israel are His desire to be made known among all nations. And almost every New Testament book embeds its presentation of the gospel with its unifying, reconciling power.

  • You can’t faithfully preach the Great Commission passages without stopping to acknowledge them as the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to build His church from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
  • You can’t preach Galatians without preaching on the racial divisions that flared within the early church.
  • You can’t exposit Ephesians without spending time on the gospel’s bringing together of diverse people into “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15).
  • You can’t preach through Acts 1:8 without seeing the ingathering of the peoples of God as a sign of God’s promise to call a people to himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

You can’t do a series on the book of Revelation and not behold the majestic beauty of the diversity around God’s throne in Revelation 7 and 9.

Sadly, I’ve heard many messages from many “New Testament churches” that never touched on the priority of racial reconciliation found in Scripture.

Sadly, I’ve heard many messages from many “New Testament churches” that never touched on the priority of racial reconciliation found in Scripture. Why is this? It could be that we, as white evangelicals, don’t see it as a priority because we don’t see the problem of racial tension in our midst. It’s time pastors start seeing and preaching what is already there in the text. The heart of God’s people must be stirred to make this as much a gospel priority as Christ has in His inspired Word.

2. By faithful discussion of history and culture

We’re not only reminded to preach on racial reconciliation when the text demands it, but faithful pastors should take the opportunity to preach on racial reconciliation either when the calendar reminds us or when a cultural issue is so big it becomes necessary to address it. My preference is to do this kind of topical preaching sparingly. The best way to address racial reconciliation and other cultural issues is to be faithful to them when they are specifically referenced in the text. This way your people understand that racial issues are gospel issues, not merely political or cultural issues. But exceptions can be made, as we do on issues like abortion with events like Sanctity of Life Sunday.

It’s important when we do a special emphasis that we still adhere to good hermeneutical practices and avoid a sloppy, proof-texting approach. It simply means we choose a text like Ephesians 3 and exegete it faithfully. What a special Sunday like this signals, to the congregation, is just how important an issue is. It also sends a signal to our minority brothers and sisters that we are seriously thinking through, studying, and learning their heritage.

Sundays like this might also be accompanied by resourcing the church through blogs, newsletters, and handouts. We might recommend good books to read on civil rights and encourage people to have meaningful conversations with people of other ethnic backgrounds. Your church might also consider hosting a roundtable with leaders from the community, maybe even a local civil-rights leader.

3. By faithful sensitivity in application and attribution

I’ve often found it is in the types of applications made during preaching that demonstrates pastoral sensitivity to the people. This is where pastors can offer leadership on an issue like racial reconciliation.

When we talk of forgiveness of sin, perhaps we might not only name sins that are common: sexual sin, financial impropriety, and church gossip. We might also include prejudice, pride, and racism. When we speak words of comfort to our people during trial, we might not always include the same kinds of suffering stories. We might instead include a story from the perspective of a minority fighting oppression in the civil rights era.

Application is a subtle teaching tool. It personalizes, for the congregation, the abstract things we are preaching from the text. It sends a message; this is the kind of thing the Bible is talking about. We should be specific, original, and diverse in our use of application. This means we shouldn’t only draw from our white majority status, but from the experiences of minorities.

It also helps if we quote, non-white pastors and theologians and acknowledge their contribution to the shape of Christian history. This kind of preaching, however, has to be shaped by a pastor who has the curiosity to read outside of his tribe and experiences. White pastors should read biographies of civil rights heroes, histories of the era, and should engage in regular conversations with minority pastors and leaders.

This is about more than merely adding some diversity to the message. It’s about serving your people by cultivating a growing, learning, changing mind.

This is about more than merely adding some diversity to the message. It’s about serving your people by cultivating a growing, learning, changing mind. You, as the pastor, will model for them what it looks like to work for racial reconciliation. And you will see your people, over time, begin to emulate what you display.

Photo by Adam Covington/Genesis Photo by Adam Covington/Genesis George Yancey

Encouraging mutual responsibility

an InterVarsity Press interview with George Yancey, based on his book Beyond Racial Gridlock

What are the two prevalent views of racism among Americans? One view is that racism only happens between individuals, so overt racism is all that matters. This is the perspective of most white Christians.

The other view is that racism is structural and a part of our society. In other words, we do not need racist intentions for people of color to suffer from racism. This is the perspective of most Christians of color.

Briefly describe the four models for solving racism. One: Colorblindness insists that racism can be solved if we just start ignoring racial differences. Colorblindness is useful for dealing with some types of overt racism and helps to deal with the tendency of some people of color to look for racism where it does not exist. However, it also does not take seriously the fact that whites still benefit from oppressive racial structures and ignores the pain and suffering of people of color.

Two: Anglo-conformity encourages people of color to adopt the cultural tools that whites have used to succeed in society and endeavors to rid our society of racism by encouraging economic empowerment by people of color. Anglo-conformity helps racial minorities to get the tools they need to succeed and allows them to take responsibility for themselves. However, it also tends to place unwarranted blame on people of color and reinforces the idea that Christianity can only or best be expressed within a European-American context.

Three: Multiculturalism emphasizes the value and worth of cultures of color. It helps to correct some of the overemphasis on majority group culture and can help minorities to celebrate positive aspects of their culture. However, multiculturalism sometimes ignores the accomplishments of majority group members and makes it hard to make real critiques of cultures of color.

Four: White responsibility contends that the responsibility of dealing with racism lies at the feet of European-Americans and European-American culture. It is useful for helping us to recognize the ways racism continues to plague society, such as through white privilege, and does not allow racial problems to be easily ignored. However, it also tends to totally ignore the responsibility of people of color and tends to alienate whites who do not already feel a certain amount of guilt.

Because of human depravity both whites and people of color have sins that make our racial situation worse in this society, so all Christians have responsibilities in helping to bring about racial healing.

You suggest the model of mutual responsibility in solving racism in America. What is the mutual responsibility model? The mutual responsibility model is based on the notion of human depravity. Because of human depravity both whites and people of color have sins that make our racial situation worse in this society, so all Christians have responsibilities in helping to bring about racial healing. The responsibilities of whites differ from those of people of color, but if Christians do not engage in solving this problem then it will not be solved. This model allows us to apply Christian truths to the problems of racism, whereas the other models are secular models that are sometimes adopted by Christians, that all fall short of providing total solutions in their failure to recognize human depravity.

Why is it so important for Christians in particular to be a part of the solution in solving racism? If our faith has something to say about the social reality that we live in, and I believe that it does, then our faith should offer solutions to the problem of race that differ from those of the world. I believe that if we are going to find a lasting solution to racism then we are going to look at our faith. In doing so we will offer unique solutions that will help to heal our society. This healing will be a powerful witness to a society that is still plagued by racial pain.

What does the mutual responsibility model mean for Christians today? It means that we will have to be proactive in healing our damaged race relations. It is vital that both white and nonwhite Christians work at developing meaningful relationships with each other. By demonstrating the type of unity that Christ asks of us we will show members of the United States how powerful our God really is and provide an awesome witness to this society. We will then also be able to speak to the rest of our society about racial issues, and I believe will find new avenues by which we can share our faith.


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  • charles jandecka
    Posted: Sat, 02/09/2019 11:40 am

    Racism is germane to every "race" spawned by Noah's kids, blacks included. When American blacks truly admit & embarace their own history of black slavery, birthed & commercialized within the African Continent, many thousands of years before it was exported abroad, perhaps their wounds will heal. Or in Jesus' words: "Don't worry about the toothpick in your neighbor's eye, until you get the railroad tie out of yours."

    And lastly, current day white people, who feel compelled to apologize for racist acts they have never committed, to include Amerca's history of slavery, are in need of professional help.

  • ScottM
    Posted: Sat, 02/09/2019 12:28 pm

    Taking nothing away from either of these 2 writers, it is my contention that the charge of 'white priveledge' is accusatory and loaded with the implication of 'white guilt', for being born white. This is nonsense.

    For over 60 years, there have been federal laws against overt discrimination in 'society'. For at least 50 years Federal law has required 'affimative action' in hiring. How is this 'white priviledge'? I contend that it is the exact opposite and is contributary toward some whites resenting that they are 'rejected' because of their race in hiring and school admission. While these policies may support Scoiety's goals, it does little that results in improving race relations for those directly impacted by them. And to call those so impacted 'racists', is hypocracy. Perhaps the push to encourage multiculturalism contributes to the separation of what are sometimes separate experiences and discouraging the idea of the 'melting pot' society.

    In terms of overt racism, this nation has come a long way since the 1950's. Our last president was elected twice by a majority white populace. Yet, it seems that race relations have gotten worse in the last decade.

    I think this confirms that issues with race relations between ethnicities is the result of the depravity in the human heart. Only by letting Christ guide our individual thoughts and actions in these matters will there ever be mutual colorblind experience.

    George Yancy is correct when he says: "It is vital that both white and nonwhite Christians work at developing meaningful relationships with each other. By demonstrating the type of unity that Christ asks of us we will show members of the United States how powerful our God really is and provide an awesome witness to this society."


  • Bob R
    Posted: Sat, 02/09/2019 01:31 pm

    Clearly, there are forces at work in our society intent upon tearing it apart by dividing us into individual subgroups, be it economically, politically, or racially.  Their purpose is to gain power and control by pitting us one against the other.  There is no question that the former president did his best to fan the flames of racial tension, which, obvious to anyone who’s been watching, have clearly deteriorated since before he came into office. 

    The other factor, often ignored in this debate is the deterioration of our morality and the associated breakdown of the family structure.  This is obviously occurring among whites as well as blacks, however, for a number of cultural and historical reasons (including overt, systemic racism of the past), the situation is far worse in the black community.  The effects of this family disintegration on the moral values of young people cannot be overstated.  And to point to differences in incarceration rates between whites and blacks, for example, as prima fascia evidence of “racial injustice” without considering these social factors is inaccurate and will result in “solutions” that will only make the situation worse.

    Revival, true, Holy Spirit revival is the only hope left for our country, and unless believers get serious about their relationship with Jesus Christ, the end is inevitable. 

  • DP
    Posted: Sat, 02/09/2019 07:56 pm

    It seems many people of color (black and Hispanic) quit supporting their less fortunate peers once they have improved their own lives. 

  • charles jandecka
    Posted: Sat, 02/09/2019 08:43 pm

    This “Saturday Series” is pregnant with racism. The only race definitively labeled are “whites,” and then with a frequency to suggest they are “the problem.” Apparently the authors have concluded the remainder of humanity has not been studied to the degree where they can be singularly identified or behaviors analyzed; being referred to in such general terms as “people of other ethnic background, people of color, minorities and cultures of color.” And anyone with a brain is aware that each “race” slashes its very own members with its personal brand of bigotry, segregation and violence; outsiders being subjected to identical behavior.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 02/10/2019 09:38 am

    It looks like this article has touched a nerve or several. I've seen quite a lot of unreasonable ideas when it comes to racism, but this article and interview sound pretty reasonable to me. I suppose it isn't wrong to point out how some of the things said and done in the name of opposing racism can wind up hurting white people, as long as it's done gently, but then the Golden Rule implies that we should put the same amount of effort into understanding what others have been through as we wish they would give to understanding our struggles.

  • EarlInWA
    Posted: Sun, 02/10/2019 01:35 pm

    Two excellent articles I wish every Christian would read. I especially appreciate Mr. Darling's point of "faithful exposition of the Scriptures" and Mr. Yancey's "model of mutual responsibility" approach. I recently was made aware of another concept, probably most akin to the "color-blindness" approach but with a scriptural basis, that I have found helpful. The fact is that underneath the skin (i.e. outwardly visible aspects), and in the sight of God who sees the heart, all people are inherently the same, regardless of lineage. There is no race but the human race, as is evident from Rom. 17:26. The idea of different "races" based on surface characteristics is a social construct rooted in the lies of our mutual enemy, whose goal is to divide what God, at the cost of His Son, has united (Eph. 3:13-17 and Gal. 3:27-28). Yes, human depravity has its effect, and we are all subject to temptation to believe the lies of the evil one, especially those that appeal to our pride and instill a false sense of superiority, whether racial or otherwise. To recognize the false premise for the concept of "racial differences" may be key to dispelling conflict among true believers, but what of the unregenerate? ...especially of those in positions of influence who appear to fuel animosity for personal or political gain? There is much work to be done...and much praying.

  •  BoyScout's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/10/2019 03:39 pm

    This is a confusing article as it mixes issues of the heart with issues of culture and makes a lot of assumptions as to what (in this context) American culture is.

    If racism is structural and part of society - this implies that society is a big part of the problem.  Is this a cultural or gospel question?  If cultural then what is the definition or what are the characteristics of the culture in question?  If the question is of a heart issue and the gospel, then the response is clear.

    Anglo-conformity versus multiculturalism - again the question, in the context of America, is this: what is the definition of the American culture?  I would contend that by defining the problem as “anglo-conformity” assumes a solution which may be that the drift away from western culture and towards “multi” is a root problem.

    This last paragraph implies western european culture and the artificial construct that is white privilege is again the root issue.  Hence, this writer concludes racism is a cultural issue, not a heart issue.  The solution then is to fix/change/destroy the culture. He ignores the heart issue altogether.

  • HoosierGuy
    Posted: Sun, 02/10/2019 05:24 pm

    Last week I attended a majority black church in Florida with my wife and daughter's family.  As our van full of white people drove into the parking lot, my grandson noticed the obvious: "Mom, I think we're the only white people here."  I said that in my experience black churches are warm and friendly toward white visitors; but the reverse, not so much.  We did experience enthusiastic welcomes from everyone we met and worshiped the Lord together as one.  The clear message is the one stated by others: while the secular world seeks to divide and diminish, the church seeks to unify and build up.  Praise the Lord, He has given the Church this great opportunity to demonstrate the power of love and unity.  So let us take advantage of this opportunity and make all of our churches places where people from every background and ethnic group can worship together as one.

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Mon, 02/11/2019 12:37 am

    I can't wait until "Enemies Within the Church" comes out.

  • CJ
    Posted: Tue, 02/12/2019 01:42 pm

    Sad that so many comments come from a position of defense rather than of listening.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Sat, 02/16/2019 01:58 pm

    What is racial reconciliation?  I don't see any definition here.  What are the requirements?  How can we know whether it has been achieved?  The article singles out whites and society alone for blame.  That is not a road to reconcilation, but toward confrontation and conflict.  Real reconciliation and forgiveness may need to start in the hearts of those who feel wronged.  They may discover that there are other reasons for problems in life than perceived racism.

    The article says we must  "apply Christian truths to the problems of racism".  This is exactly right, but what truths specifically?  The bible and modern science are both clear.   There is no such thing as race.  Racism is the wrong belief in something that does not exist.  The hate and evil are based on a lie.  Christians should shout this from the rooftops.  The truth will set us free.

  • TxAgEngr
    Posted: Thu, 02/21/2019 05:04 pm

    I thought this problem was solved.  The TV commercials I have seen for the last 2 years show blacks and whites cheerfully engaged in fully-integrated social settings of all kinds, in fact, the races are almost completely intermarried.  And we all know that Madison Avenue wouldn't lie to us.