By Kenneth Ulmer
As many U.S. pastors come together to lead racial reconciliation efforts and to promote unity in the Church, we often look around and see that it is predominately Black pastors and leaders of color who are most involved. We are thankful we do see some of our White brothers and sisters engaged on these issues with us, but the percentage is small compared to the larger evangelical Body.
We believe this disparity needs to be addressed because it contradicts the unity that we are called to reflect, as fellow believers in Christ. We are supposed to be of one accord, as it says in Acts chapter 2. If we are supposed to be one in the power of the Holy Spirit, I should hurt when you hurt and you should hurt when I hurt. Additionally, we must learn to rejoice with those who rejoice – beyond the sacred walls of the sanctuary in a prayer meeting or foot-washing, but in the common ground of confronting injustice and inequity, while refusing to confirm or affirm ideological extremism on the right or the left.
It often appears that many in the white community cannot mourn with many Black people because they don’t feel the pain of Black America. Until you feel that pain you won’t be convicted about it and won’t make a change. If you don’t have a personal connection to something you can’t have a personal conviction about it. Even if you cannot feel my pain, will you stand with me while I hurt, and move with me to remove the pain? But whatever you do, please do not deny that I hurt.
Hebrews 13:3 in the New Living Translation says “Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.” This would be a true reflection of our oneness in Christ, if we felt one another’s pain to that extent, but it does not seem as if white leaders are hurting as much as leaders of color, as evidenced by their lack of involvement.
We misrepresent the God we claim to serve when we don’t hurt for the people who don’t look like us. You may not know what to do, and that’s okay, if you would just show you care. When you see your Black brothers and sisters in pain, do you stop and pray for them, or do you just go on about your business? Evangelical white brethren, sometimes it would at least help if you could just cry with us. But in order to cry you have to care, and so it seems that many of you don’t.
This must change, or it makes a farce of biblical unity. We say we read the same Bible, but when Black leaders stand up for justice, some white leaders say it is unspiritual. But the Bible tells us to do something about it when we see injustice.
We, as God’s people, are called to be different; we must not be defeated by these persistent societal injustices—nor should we turn a blind eye to the pain of our brothers and sisters even if we are not directly affected. We must all be ambassadors for healing and reconciliation, a light in the darkness, representing Jesus Christ in everything we say and do. “All” includes, assumes and advocates for solidarity at the fringes. Denunciation of anti-Asian, anti-Semitic, and Latin-X marginalization is a manifestation of the walls that fall by the power of the Gospel. The greater goal is to expand and actualize what has been musicalized: “Red and yellow, brown, black and white; ALL are precious in His sight!”
The Bible tells us that we are not many races but one race created by God. He never intended for us to live divided across cultures or denominations. Unity was His original design. When Jesus came on the scene, He demonstrated who God is—and how we are to live—by the way that He loved.
The body of Christ is called to lead the way. We are to be headlights and not taillights. We are to stand united for righteousness as well as true liberty and justice for all. The Church should be the most influential voice in culture. We need to speak up for humanity’s worth and value – every man, woman and child. Yes, every life matters, but we need to be willing to say Black lives matter. We must say it because some of our history, and some of our institutions, systems and structures have either said or whispered that Black lives do NOT matter.
We are praying white leaders won’t blend in with the political vitriol but will be Christian more than Republican or Democrat. We need to quit bowing to the peer pressure of the people who look like us and just do what the Word says. Many white pastors have admitted that they would lose members of their congregations if they spoke out more about racial issues, and they just “can’t afford” to do that. But Jesus wasn’t concerned about winnowing down his followers to those who were truly committed. He told those he called that they would need to make sacrifices to follow him, and he didn’t try to make them comfortable. Perhaps we need to purge our congregations to see who the true followers of Jesus are. Following Christ is certainly not limited to social issues, but we must not find comfort in an “either-or” rather than a “both-and” posture of both spiritual redemption and social redress.
It has been said that it’s easier for a white church leader to attract Black people than for a Black church leader to attract white people. Minorities are more adept at assimilating to try and fit in. Many white leaders aren’t willing to do that and have never assimilated into a Black culture because they are part of the majority culture. Diversity has most often been a one way street, but we need diversity to be a two-way street. White Christians need to be willing to follow Black church leaders, which requires an extra level of intentionality. As fellow believers, we are called to submit to one another, and this means white Christians to Black pastors.
A popular old church worship song said “they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” so I ask, white church leaders, is your behavior reflecting your identity in Christ or are you painting a false picture of what the Church is called to be?
We invite everyone, and white leaders especially, to join us for a series of conversations to share our hurts and pains, to bear one another’s burdens, as we seek – in unity — to come up with practical solutions to the crisis through the DC Talks banquet and Let’s Talk campaign.
Kenneth Ulmer is pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif., and Dennis Rouse is founding pastor of Victory World Church in Norcross, Ga. Both serve as advisory team members for Let’s Talk, which seeks to provide a platform for conversations to bring about change. Individuals are invited to register online for a virtual kick-off banquet, sign up to participate in monthly Zoom calls, and read and sign the “statement of change” at www.letstalklive.org.