Pastors are often counseled to avoid preaching on certain subject matter—politics, for example—lest their sermons be the cause of unnecessary division and offense in the church. Some will argue that anything other than a message describing the path to salvation distracts from the real purpose of preaching.
Some would believe that addressing racism during a sermon falls under the above situations. As a pastor who regularly speaks about race and racism from my church’s pulpit, I have been accused of cultural pandering, promoting division, race-baiting, and theological liberalism. While I strive to be sensitive and humble enough to recognize my own sin, I believe that my treatment of such subject matter is rooted in an orthodox approach to God and the Bible.
In that light, I want to share a few of the reasons why I regularly incorporate the theme of racism in my preaching.
I do not assume what a Christian believes about racism.
We often hear the narrative that the answer to racism will be found as churches lead more people to genuine Christian faith. As more people experience personal revival, this will naturally lead to a societal revival and transformation that will combat issues such as racism.
Though the sentiment may be noble on its face, and even serve to rally evangelical efforts for church revitalization and multiplication, research demonstrates this type of transformation doesn’t happen. In their seminal work, Divided by Faith, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith describe this as the Miracle Motif: the appropriate solution to the ills of racism (as understood by most White evangelicals) is found in more people becoming Christians individually. But, this concept suggests nothing to address corporate or systemic issues directly.
Current events are revealing that faith in Christ itself does not automatically equate to a grasp of the sin of racism. This is particularly true for those where exploring race was not required to navigate life as it may have been for people of color. Unless people in the majority culture have walked through the water with their minority friends, family, or co-workers, they sometimes don’t see racism beyond overt expressions such as those found at White supremacist rallies.
I preach on racism just as I would on other topic like sex or money. I don’t assume that attendance in a worship service means anything.
The church requires better training in a Christian worldview
Conversations about reconciliation in the church bring accusations of kowtowing to a politically incorrect culture. Some observe little noticeable difference between how the world and the church thinks through issues. I believe this is a valid concern and notice that some Christians with a genuine desire to combat racism can lack biblical authority in their zeal.
As a preacher, it is my responsibility to teach my church how to process real issues from a Christian worldview. I view my preaching as a way to train others how to study the Bible and have that knowledge inform all of life. As we learn God’s word, I want to demonstrate how the message of reconciliation is essential to grasping the Christian gospel as it is revealed all through the Scriptures.
The death of racism is not a concept created in political think-tanks or by social activists. It is God’s very own design for a new reconciled humanity created in and through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of the Christ.
People have been wounded by racism, even by and in the church.
Everyone in thoughtful majority-White congregations may not be fully aware of the wounds that many of their minority members carry associated with racism. Whether direct or subtly, many people have been the recipients of discrimination and hate simply because of the color of their skin. Many minorities in America would suggest those problems have always been there and current events are just bringing them to light for those not affected by racism regularly to see.
My theological view leads me to believe we will always have the evil of racism while we’re a part of this world and that we learn to respond in love and compassion with an eye toward justice. It is heartbreaking when the effects of racism are caused by in the church, intentionally or not.
I don’t preach about racism to convince minorities in our church that it is a real sin; they already know that. I preach so that they can hear they are not alone. Preaching sets the tone for a church’s culture including what topics are safe and open for engagement. In our church, I want that to include an honest approach to race and those who care about it.
Racism is a sin requiring repentance.
In the end, I’m an old school preacher. I believe a significant aspect of preaching is a prophetic call for sinners to repentance.
Preaching on racism for me is more than just awareness of a societal ill. It is preaching against sin. There are people both in and outside of the church whose sin is racism; some may not be aware of it. Some are sinning with the commission of blatantly racist acts and thoughts. Some racism is subtle in nature. Regardless of the expression of the offense, if there are people who have this sin and I as a preacher never mention racism as a sin, I am allowing them to continue in an unrepentant condition.
Freedom is found when people turn to Christ in their sin to experience forgiveness. Preaching against racism is not from hate—it is from love. I love the racists and the victims of racism and desire for the forgiveness and love of Jesus to be known by them all.