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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Does the Church Have A Blind Spot About Racism?

I rarely share my personal ministry story for a few reasons. I don’t want pity. Nor do I want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder daring the world to knock it off. I posted a question on Facebook about the church and one response hit me the wrong way. I know I did not mean to come across as racist, but it hit me there is a perception that the church is a place that welcomes all people. Having served only urban churches I know this is not always the case. Yes, the church should be a place where sinners are welcomed and can hear proclaimed clearly the Gospel. Where they receive unconditional love, and the forgiveness of sins offered by Jesus' death on the cross. This was not even true in my graduate school seminary education.

My seminary experience was filled with what I will call hurtful and inappropriate conversations. One of the first ones involved a conversation with a professor who I believe was trying to motivate me by encouraging me to try harder. It is insulting to think that I came this far to undertake this profession and somehow was not trying is problematic. In his words, “Your people expect more.” For a black American when we hear the “Your people” line all our antennas go up. That comment was insulting and condescending. But this one was far easier to ignore than the next incident.

We were supposed to announce when we got engaged at the seminary. When this magical day happened, I was happy to compile with the rules. I had been blessed to find the perfect mate to take on this journey of life and ministry. I filled out the paperwork and turned it in. Little did I know the shock I would receive at the meeting with my spiritual counselor. When he asked me more about the woman who would become my bride, he hit me with, “Because of your choice of a bride it will limit your future in this Lutheran Church body.” My lovely bride is a white German while, I am only three percent German most of my DNA is Nigerian. I could not respond the way I wanted to, I needed to graduate. Cooler heads prevailed, but those words would stick with me for over 30 years. Those words would become bulletin board material for my ministry pathway. I was determined to prove them wrong. I could not accept that my God set those limits. I believe God had different plans. I wanted to prove them wrong and go further than anyone expected me to, and become more influential than their limited minds could comprehend. To accomplish this, however, meant relying on God opening doors and not me seeking opportunities. This approach has worked well for me because God has opened some incredible doors and used me in making a positive kingdom impact. By not letting others define what God can do those words of “God’s ability to use you in the church is limited because you didn’t marry someone acceptable to us.” Did not ring true. The church has a race problem and the biggest reason it will not get resolved is the church doesn’t want to see it. In a Barna research study, I uncovered these shocking stats.

Student protests have swept U.S. universities in recent years, many of them the result of tense race relations on campus. In a poll of U.S. adults, Barna found that these tensions are not isolated to college campuses—over eight out of 10 Americans agree with the statement,

“There is a lot of anger and hostility between different ethnic and racial groups in America today” (84%). According to a significant minority, churches add fuel to the fire of racial animus; more than one-third say “Christian churches are part of the problem when it comes to racism” (38%). Millennials (ages 18 to 31) are most likely among the generations to agree (46%).

I did not write the post to attack the church because I am hopeful about the church. The research is clear the most powerful and the most influential organization to impact racial change, is the church. But you can’t change what you don’t see.

On the other hand, three-quarters of all Americans agree that “Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation” (73%). This view is as common among white adults (75%) as among black Americans (77%). Hispanics, however, tend to be a bit more skeptical; only about two-thirds agree that churches have an important role to play in reconciliation (67%).

This last statistic should give the church a sense of encouragement. Americans still look to the church to be the ones leading the way in race relations.

There is Hope

We have the guiding blueprint for racial reconciliation. The culture today is putting people into campus and ideological corners and when the bell rings we come out fighting. The way God sees humanity is very different. God doesn't see us as people groups. He does not focus on our sexuality or our preference, nor does He put us into social categorizations, like race, class, and gender. In Galatians, Paul writes inspired by God, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. ” It is my prayer for the church to be a model of a place for all people to come and feel welcome and accepted but most importantly know they are loved and forgiven because of what Christ has done for them. What the church can do for the world is to point them back to the source of their true identity who they are in Christ. How we are seen by God as His greatest masterpiece. Imagine if each person on the planet looked at their neighbor and saw a fine work of art. How would that impact our daily interactions?

Reference Links

3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 3:27–29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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