Amidst protests across the country being the headline of many news stories, I have wondered “Where is the church?” Like you, I have heard Rev. Al Sharpton address the media after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, MO, but I was waiting to hear more. Like you, I saw Dr. Jamal Bryant protest and even get arrested while visiting Ferguson. But what about the other thousands of clergy men and women across this nation? Where was their voice? Who was speaking? And why weren’t more people hearing them?
While working through frustration, anger, activism, outrage, confusion, and sadness because of the current state of our nation, I saw a flyer on Facebook advertising “A Time to Speak” panel discussion. My interest was peeked not only because of the names on the flyer, but the topics. This was “a livestream of Christian leaders speaking on race, the church, and where we go from here.” #atimetospeak
I was ready. Finally, the church is speaking, and I, with so many others, was listening. The panelists were broken into two groups moderated by Dr. Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research. This conversation took place at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN … yes, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Noting the significance of being in the same motel 46 years later, Pastor Albert Tate said, “We are not at the Lorraine motel because we got it right, but because we got it wrong.”
On the first panel (left to right) sat pastors Dr. Darrin Patrick, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, Dr. Voddie Baucham, and Bryan Loritts. Then came all of the hard questions that were uncomfortable to answer. Why are people upset about grand jury decisions? Is there a race problem in America? Is there a race problem in the church? What are we to do?
Dr. Stetzer read a few quotes from a blog by Dr. Baucham, who was adamently defending “A race is not to be divided” and a blog by Pastor Thabiti. The men were afforded he opportunity to discuss their different and sometimes opposing views which was extremely helpful in understanding the heart behind their blog posts.
“It is deeply problematic to say there is no systemic problem in America.” -Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile
“We are dealing issues of interpersonal relationships of the gospel that breaks down walls and unites us.” – Dr. Voddie Baucham
Pastor Matt Chandler was asked directly about his recent vocality on the topics of race and the church. “Why the urgency to speak up now? What changed from before?” His response, in my opinion, was beautiful.
“Relationships with African-Americans. If it happens to ‘black people’, I may not feel. If it happens to my friends, I feel. I want to fight.” -Pastor Matt Chandler
When asked “Is it the church’s responsibility to address race relations?”, Pastor Byran Loritts said, “There are 2,350 verses (in the Bible) that talk about God’s heart toward the least of these. That’s why it is important for advocacy from the church… Let’s stop and try to understand.” To answer the same question, Dr. Darrin Patrick responded eloquently with “If we can’t have these conversations in the church, how can we have them in the world?”
Wow. What a conversation! That is only a small view of the discussion from panel one. For the second hour of the simulcast, the audience was introduced to the only woman panelist, Trillia Newbell along side pastors Derwin Gray, Dr. Eric Mason, Dr. John Piper, and Albert Tate. Pastor Bryan Loritts remained for the second panel.
The beginning of the conversation of the second panel was passionately led by Derwin Gray. “Our racialized culture has influenced us more than Christ. My blackness does not define me; my Christness defines me.” Trillia raised concern with the connectedness of the church. “For us to not step into the shoes of someone different than us, we are denying our family. If we can start to see each other as brothers and sisters, we can capture God’s vision of the gospel.”
Honestly, I was most anxious to hear from Dr. Eric Mason and Dr. John Piper. The transparecy of Dr. Piper was remarkable. He made this statement. “I have felt a level of inauthenticity the entire ministry because of the lack of diversity. This is not a social issue. It’s a blood issue.” Dr. Mason echoed these sentiments. “These trials were trials for the church. How in the world does the gospel engage this? We have to biblically root our understanding of transformation. We are to engage in social ministry AND discipleship.”
Pastor Albert Tate added weight to the discussion with the view of being aware of another culture. He said, “Black culture has to understand white culture by default. You can’t get a GED without knowing white culture, but you can get a PhD and not know any black culture. We have to make an intentional step into each other’s lives.” One of the more light-hearted statements was that of #BlackDinner… it’s self-explanatory.
Dr. Piper’s conclusion was directed to pastors. “My plea for pastors is to be bold. Preempt the issues biblically. Go there first. Capture the vocabulary. Think of this as marriage. You work it through. Don’t walk away from this. ”
Perhaps the most sombering statement made during the second panel was from Pastor Derwin Gray. “Isn’t it hypocritical to say racism is wrong when 90% of our churches are homogenous?”
Frankly, this discussion was very uncomfortable at times but very necessary. If you have not already had a discussion with fellow Christian brothers and sisters of varying ethnicities and cultures, I encourage you to do so. Speak with grace and humility. Know that you will be offended and more than likely offend as well. Let Jesus be the foundation of the conversation and grace the lens you see others through. Intentionally seek to build relationships and grow close with people who do not have the same experiences as you.
“Without proximity, there is no empathy.” -Bryan Loritts
If you watched, #ATimetoSpeak, what did you take away from the conversation?
To watch video of the conversation, click HERE.