If we were as outraged about racism in the church as we are about it in sports we might see a revival. That’s my thought on the situation surrounding Donald Sterling and the NBA right now. The LA Clippers owner has gotten himself into hot water over some ignorant and clearly racist comments. People all over the nation, including the South, are disgusted at the mindset of Sterling. The aged NBA owner seemed to have a serious problem with his mistress associating with people of color in public. He justified himself by claiming that he was not a racist because he has helped so many black people. When his mistress encouraged him to change his obvious prejudice ways, he responded by saying “I don’t want to change.” I wish this were the first time I’ve heard views like this espoused. But the reality is that the logic of Mr. Sterling has been alive and well in many churches for quite some time. I can attest to this because my ministry has been limited to leading smaller churches in the South.
Don’t misunderstand me. Not all the churches in the South have the Sterling mindset. Lots of churches have overcome this hurdle and are doing great in the area of race relations. But there are many in our Southern churches that have difficulty embracing people of color. I have experienced that personally in churches & communities in which I have served. As well, I have had many conversations with pastors struggling to overcome prejudice in their own churches. How can we overcome racism in the church? Let me offer some suggestions.
1. We need to reveal racism as a horrible sin. Sadly, many church leaders are silent on the issue. It bothers me that we blow up on social media over this issue but clam up behind the pulpit over it. There is a big movement today to plant multicultural churches. That’s fine, but I don’t think it’s the answer. In fact, sometimes it may be counterproductive. I can hear some saying, “Of course we’re not prejudice, we started a Hispanic church!” The answer to racism in the church is not to give everyone their own church. The reality is that some ethnic churches are started so that certain races will stop coming to a particular church. Racism is a sin that must be pointed out. It is a sin that many in our churches need to repent of. It is likely that the people in our churches will not repent of this sin unless we are willing to address it from the pulpit. Use the Bible to show God as the Creator and Redeemer of all nations. Be bold on the issue. Be clear on the issue. In a recent sermon I said “If you are prejudice you have either not read the Bible or you don’t care what it says.” We must be that bold on the issue of racism. We must reveal it as a sin.
2. Point out the hypocrisies in missions. Normally it is not difficult to get a church in the south to support reaching a people group in another country. Often times our churches have ministries to help reach people in places such as Africa and Haiti. We will send our money and engage in short term mission trips to reach such people with the gospel. We often have power point presentations and videos with whites and blacks working with one another for the sake of the gospel. We celebrate diversity in foreign missions; we hesitate diversity in home missions. Use this to teach your people about home missions. If we are going across the globe to reach people of a different skin color why would we not go across the street to do the same? Generally speaking, people are reasonable. No one wants to be a hypocrite. Revealing this hypocrisy could be something God uses to overcome prejudice in your church.
3. Model racial diversity in your life and ministry. It’s important that people see us model what we preach. I have made it a priority to minister and befriend people of color. I work at it. My church is 100% white. However, I have a weekly ministry that is 100% African American. I once had one of my older men approach me at church. He told me of an encounter he had with an African American gentlemen in the community. The subject of church came up. Amazingly, both men identified me as their pastor. One on Sunday, the other on Tuesday! The African American man told the old timer at my church “Your preacher is a black man trapped in a white man’s body!” I don’t know what that means, but I took it as a compliment. Our life speaks volumes. If we only address racial harmony from the pulpit I am not sure that we will get very far in overcoming the problem in our churches.
4. Be as bold in condemning prejudice as they are in promoting it. I have heard some really dumb things in church when it comes to the issue of prejudice. Remember this; prejudice is impossible to logically defend. The more a racist person talks the dumber they sound. Instead of overlooking the rude comments people make, engage them in conversation about them. Make them defend their position. I have heard some really dumb logic when it comes to this issue:
“You never see blue birds and red birds together!” I guess they forget about the rest of the animal kingdom. Cows, horses, cats, dogs, etc. all come in different colors.
“The Bible says you’re supposed to stay with your own tribe”. To which we must ask, “And to which tribe do you belong?”
“The Bible says not to be unequally yoked”. They usually don’t know the rest of the verse. It says “with unbelievers”. It’s important to let them know that Moses married outside of his race. Boaz married outside his race as well. There are other biblical examples but that should be enough to make the point.
It takes boldness to engage church members on these issues. However, we can’t allow an unbiblical mindset to go unchecked in our churches. We must be bold enough to confront sin if we are going to be leaders.
5. Engage different races with the gospel. Include neighborhoods of all races in your visitation and outreach. Invite children of all colors to your church activities. Don’t simply have a Backyard Bible Club in a minority neighborhood. Involve children of all races in your weekly ministries. Start a transportation ministry if necessary. Even if you are a small church you can do this. It’s likely you could double your children’s ministry by including minorities.
6. Invite speakers of different races to your church. Have them preach for you. If possible, use local ministers. Let your people see and hear from men of God who are not the same color as you are. Allow them to bring a choir or special singer with them as well.
Those are six simple ways to start overcoming prejudice in our churches. I hope they help. But regardless, let’s get serious about overcoming this sin in our churches. Let’s not simply opine online. We are called to speak the truth from our pulpits to our people. I trust that God will honor His Word.