My Thoughts on ‘Time to Speak,’ Racism, Recent Events, and the Gospel

Two nights ago Ed Stetzer of Lifeway and Bryan Loritts from Kainos hosted an evening panel discussion called “Time to Speak” on race, recents events, and the gospel.  You can view the entire 2 hour event here.  One message was clear from the beginning: we have come very far with race relations since the days of Martin Luther King Jr. but most Americans believe we still have very far to go.  I think this statement is true regardless of where your opinion is on recent events.

There were two different panels that discussed these things for an hour each.  The first panel was: Voddie Baucham, Bryan Loritts, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, and Thabiti Anyabwile.  The second panel consisted of Derwin Gray, Eric Mason, Trillia Newbell, John Piper, and Albert Tate.

Here are my thoughts….

First panel:

The discussion in the first panel largely consisted of a dialogue between Voddie Baucham and Thabiti Anyabwile who both have written blog posts about the recent race events of Ferguson and New York in which they took VERY different views.  Baucham said this to open the first panel, “For me, when I look at this, regardless of all the other issues surrounding it and the facts that are being debated and disputed, one of the things that we have to keep in mind is the fact that Eric Garner and Mike Brown were not Martin Luther King Jr.  There is a difference.  There is a distinction between individuals who are living lives that represent what we are fighting for and individuals who are living lives that represent what we are trying to rise above.  For me, that was the note that was important to hit that wasn’t being hit.”  He went on to say that young black men have a good reason to be afraid of police only if they are breaking the law.  This is the kind of living he was taught to avoid as a child, and I agree with him this is the kind of living we should seek to rise above.

Thabiti Anyabwile responded by saying this, “I think it’s ahistorical and is very close to willfully ignorant to argue that there are no systemic injustices in this country, either in its history or in its present.  To argue that because we have some high-profile exemplars like the president, the attorney general, and so on, I think we rob ourselves of the sanctifying power of the gospel when the Spirit confronts us about this sin.  Racism is just a species of alienation from the fall.  It is a particular kind of alienation that operates systematically along the lines of ethnicity, skin color, and so on.”  Anyabwile went on to point out reasons why he thought Baucham was wrong.  Baucham responded and the two went back and forth for about 35 minutes and in my opinion Baucham made much more sense than Anyabwile.  Baucham pointed out the evil patterns in young black culture that lead to events like we’ve seen this past months while Anyabwile focused largely on systematic oppression of police toward certain ‘profiles.’

Darrin Patrick chimed in and said a good clarifying statement, “This is going to be polarizing, it’s going to be difficult, people are going to disagree, but if we can’t have these conversations in the church, how can we possibly expect the world to have them?  It’s our chance to have that conversation.”

This first panel was a good one, in which Baucham clearly was the black sheep who, in my opinion, was one of the only ones who spoke what needed to be spoken – things which no one else was willing to say.

Second panel:

Derwin Gray began this panel and, to me, spoke the greatest.  Gray, a black pastor, said, “Before the cross there were two different people, Jews and Gentiles.  After the cross we have something greater, one new people who are blood soaked and form what we call the Church.”  This statement set the stage for the rest of the panel, which made it clearly different and more gospel centered than the first panel (which was by and large only about specific items involving police, Ferguson, and New York).

John Piper than urged pastors “…not to be cowards in the pulpit on social issues such as abortion and race, exhorting them to pre-empt issues biblically by teaching on them from Scripture long before they hit the news cycle.”  This is not an issue that will fade away.  We will have another Ferguson most likely sometime in the future.  Pastors ought to be working, from the pulpit, to prepare our people for such times.  Piper then concluded, “There’s discouraging things to see and there’s encouraging things to see (on racial issues and the church).  This is encouraging: the number of young, black, theologically rich, socially aware men feels fresh to me.  You didn’t see that a generation ago.  That feels really hopeful.”

My concluding thoughts:

Overall, it was a good evening of discussion.  I greatly benefitted from watching this live event and I am glad Lifeway and Kainos prepared and executed it well, and for free!

Yes, there are things wrong with our justice system.  Police sometimes do things they shouldn’t do.  But there are many things wrong with black culture that are leading young black men astray.  One could say the same thing about lower class (where I live!) white neighborhoods or hispanic neighborhoods too.  We are called to be Christlike, love and pray for our enemies, submit to the authorities, and turn the other cheek if we are oppressed.  The one thing, as Christians, we’re not called to do is respond with force.  Example?  The oppressed community in view in James 5:7-12 was called to do two things: wait for God to carry out justice, and trust in God rather than respond with force (click here to listen to my sermon on this text).  This is the response we ought to desire regardless of what color our skin is and though that is true Thabiti Anyabwile wore a t-shirt specially made for the evening with names of oppressed black men throughout the past 10 years that did the exact opposite of what is called for in James 5:7-12.  His shirt gave the sense similar to what Trip Lee and Lecrae have been saying, “Could’ve been me” – which in my opinion is the wrong response.  To hear Thabiti say, “I am Mike Brown” and Lee and Lecrae saying, “Could’ve been me” is only a correct and logical statement if they are breaking the law as these others were.  This, to me, is unhelpful dialogue more informed and enflamed by race than the truths of the Gospel.

Bottom line: when we come to Christ by faith we are reconciled to God, and once that happens we find ourselves becoming reconciled to one another.  The gospel, not the color of our skin, should shape our view on race.  This ought to give us empathy toward all parties involved by placing us firmly in the shoes of both Mike Brown and Officer Wilson.

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Martin Luther King Changed My World, and I am Thankful

An encouraging read for today from John Piper on why he is so very thankful for Martin Luther King Jr:

The racial world I grew up in and the one we live in today are amazingly different. Racism remains in many forms in America and around the world. But in the days of my youth the segregation was almost absolute and the defense of it was overt and ugly, without shame.

In 1954, seventeen states required segregated public schools (ABW, 99); In 1956, 85% of all white southerners rejected the statement, “White students and Negro students should go to the same schools”; 73% said that there should be “separate sections for Negros on streetcars and buses”;
62% did not want a Negro “with the same income and education” as them to move into their neighborhood (ABW, 144); In 1963, 82% of all white southerners opposed a federal law that would give “all persons, Negros as well as white, the right to be served in public places such as hotels, restaurants, and similar establishments” (ABW, 139); And in 1952 (when I was six years old), only 20% of southern blacks of voting age were registered to vote.

The upshot of those statistics was an unjust, unsafe, condescending, unwelcoming, demeaning, and humiliating world for blacks. Have you ever paused to ask yourself what separate water fountains and separate restrooms could possibly mean except: You are unclean — like lepers. It was an appalling world.

Between that racially appalling world and this racially imperfect one strode Martin Luther King. We don’t know if the world would have changed without him, but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God. Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws. He was used in the mighty hand of Providence to change the world so that the most appalling, blatant, degrading, public expressions of racism have gone away.

For that, this MLK day is worthy of our thankful reckoning.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to change the world. And toward the end he was increasingly aware that “the Movement” would cost him his life. The night before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he preached at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple. He had come to Memphis to support the black sanitation workers.

His message came to be called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He began it by surveying world history in response to God’s question: “When would you have liked to be alive?” King answered, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Why? Because “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world.”

What was happening? “We are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.” We are standing up. “A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.” For a brief window of time — just long enough — MLK was able to use his voice to restrain violence and overcome hate: “We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces. They don’t know what to do.” He kindled a kind of fire that no dogs could quench and no fire hoses could put out.

It was “a dangerous kind of unselfishness.” Like the Good Samaritan. “The Levite asked, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you tonight.”

A dangerous unselfishness. So dangerous it would cost MLK his life. And he saw it coming. That morning there was a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta to Memphis. He felt it coming. So he closed his sermon prophetically:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Ten hours later he was dead. My world was changed forever. And I am thankful.