I found this article by Jonathan Leeman to be very helpful, particularly the section on the topic of evangelical churches and the race discussion.
Here is his big idea:
Pastors should strive to teach and disciple members on the topic of race and racism, yet we should do it in a way that makes the Bible primary . . . and in a way that puts power into the service of truth, not truth into the service of power.
There are two ways, he says, that we can do this:
The biblical way, I propose, is the way of race consciousness.
The postmodern way, I believe, is the way of race essentialism.
When it comes to the gospel and sin, race and racism, he lays out his basic convictions from biblical teaching:
I believe majority and minority [believers] alike are “one new man” in Christ, and our churches embassies of heaven (Eph. 2:11–22; Ps. 133:1).
Yet I also believe judgment begins with the household of God, which means we should keep our eyes continually open for places of necessary repentance (1 Pet. 4:17), sins intentional and unintentional (Leviticus 4), including racial sin, and that only fools refuse to listen (Prov. 12:15; 13:1). “Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . And see if there is any grievous way in me” (Ps. 139:23–24).
I believe Scripture pronounces woe against individual and structural sins (e.g., Isa. 10:2; Esther 3:7–14, Mark 7:1–13, Acts 6:1; etc.), and racial injustice can come in both forms.
Insofar as Paul names the ethnic and political categories of “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” as comprising different parts of “the body” (1 Cor. 12:13), and then, a few verses later, calls us to “suffer” with those parts of the body that suffer (1 Cor. 12:26), I believe he calls us to be conscious of ways that that suffering might show up across different ethnic and political boundaries.
And I believe as a matter of pastoral judgment, not biblical principle, that we should be especially watchful in our American churches. Several centuries of racism doesn’t quickly fix itself.
Finally, I believe, based on John’s vision of many tribes, tongues, and nations gathered around God’s throne in Revelation 7:9, that diversity is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be enjoyed.
He argues that pastors should pursue the race conversation inside their churches, being “race conscious.”
What would a biblically grounded race consciousness look like and do?
A race consciousness listens and learns.
It studies history and asks people from different ethnic backgrounds about their lived experience.
It certainly seeks out hurt, suffering, and injustice.
It requires us, quite simply, to be conscious of race or ethnicity (whichever term you prefer for now) as an existential factor in this world that shapes people’s lives. So it was articulated in the 2006 in article 17 of the Together for the Gospel affirmations and denials.
Race consciousness offers a hard-to-categorize blend of both color blindness and color consciousness in our friendships and pastoral analyses. Loving a minority friend means being conscious of his experience as a minority, but it doesn’t mean always and only seeing him as a minority. Our common humanity and union in Christ must also be color blind. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
He then recommends three books that he thinks will serve us toward that end:
1. Start with Shai Linne’s The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethic Unity (Moody, 2021). It offers a way of talking about race and racism by trying to build on biblical categories, not ideological ones. He talks about “ethnic hatred” from Jonah, “ethnic pride” by pointing to Goliath, “ethnic favoritism” as an implication of James 2:9, “ethnic oppression” by pointing to the Egyptians’ oppression of the Israelites, and so on.
2. Read Mark Vroegop’s Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation (Crossway, 2020).
3. And then for thinking about how to love and pastor church members coming from different perspectives on this topic, read Isaac Adam’s remarkable Talking about Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations (Zondervan, 2022).
Leeman goes on to reflect on his personal experience of why and how the evangelical conversations about race started to change somewhere after 2014 with the rise of race essentialism:
Little by little I found that, in personal conversations, books, and online I was asked to adopt an interpretation and perspective that appealed less to immediately discernible facts and more to an overall pattern or narrative. And that interpretation was a racialized one. On one occasion, when facts pointed in the opposite direction, I was essentially told the facts didn’t matter because the narrative did.
Now, I’m personally persuaded by the histories which argue that the creation of race and the racialization of the world several centuries ago did in fact begin with white supremacy as a justification for racism and slavery. The trouble is, when you begin to look at the world through racialized lenses, how and when do you take the lenses off? In fact, the conversation began to insist that we should not try to de-racialize the world. You don’t ever get to take the lenses off. Instead, today’s orthodoxy counts “color-blindness” as just another form of white supremacy and forced assimilation. We’re forever stuck inside of racism’s original race-essentialism. I am my color. You are your color. And there’s no off ramp.
Furthermore, the orthodoxy began to stress the importance of systems, but it also indicts heart motivations and viewpoints, even as it claims not to. Furthermore, the emphasis on “systems” or “structures” isn’t merely about laws and practices and values that we have concretely identified, as when one talks about Jim Crow or redlining or even more subtle practices and traditions that can be drawn into the light and named. I don’t know anyone on the left or right who objects to indicting something demonstrable, individual or systemic. What’s harder is that the systemic indictment lingers even when nothing can be concretely identified. Instead, the indictment becomes a presupposition, a foregone conclusion, an All-Seeing Eye. The indictment engulfs us like a cloud—a kind of false consciousness labeled “whiteness” that envelops everything—a very way of being involving heart, mind, and soul, as in, “Of course, you’d say that. You’re speaking out of white privilege.” The proof of the indictment is sometimes concrete, but often not, appealing either way to the patterns of history: “350 years of history must mean guilt continues. That’s the pattern. Ongoing inequalities prove it.” And sometimes the indictment is right.
I’m not sure what the best label is to call this thing—CRT? Anti-racism? I tend to think identity politics is best, but I don’t want to get hung up on that. The bigger picture I watched on social media and that I experienced in my own relationships is that a conversation about race consciousness morphed into a conversation that increasingly felt like race essentialism. People moved from emphasizing history to a kind of historicism which reads all of history through an ideological lens; from celebrating diversity to demanding particular policies as a sign of repentance. In short, in the first decade and a half of the 21st century, many of us were having the civil rights conversation. Then something changed. The civil rights tradition was swallowed up by something I’d call more thoroughly postmodern.
Leeman expands on the “CRT” (Critical Race Theory) discussion and connects it to Phariseeism:
Speaking of CRT, defenders are quick to say it’s merely a legal theory. Indeed, that’s precisely what it is. It’s a theory that legalizes all of life in racial terms. Rules and traditions, work and play, health and sex, cities and nations and empires, your heart and mine, even older ways opposing racism—all this it judges through the law of racialization and oppression. Where the deconstruction project’s gender conversation critiques authority, the postmodern race conversation, in a way, does the opposite. It legalizes everything. It creates law. CRT is Moses on racialized hyperdrive. It is one of the premier Phariseeisms of today, offering a God’s-eye view on our society and culture that places them under permanent indictment. We’re guilty until proven innocent.
What’s difficult is, so long as racial sin exists, evidence will forever remain available to validate the theory. Real, ongoing, nameable sin supplies oxygen to the diffuse, non-named, universal indictment. . . . Satan loves to be first in line to show compassion to real hurt, but then leverage it to declare everyone guilty.
As the larger race conversation changed, the personal conversations grew more tense, harder. At least once I said, “My heart is with you and this cause, but my conscience cannot follow you there.” And the reaction would be sharp. “You should be listening, not talking.” Relationships strained and, in some cases, broke.
Compounding the strain, I watched Christian voices on the right—by my lights—insult, malign, slander, and misrepresent Christians on the left. These are real injustices and warrant their own conversations. Yet within a few years two sides hardened against one another. Trust had vanished. . . .
Leeman—good 9Marks man that he is—brings in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18 on church discipline:
Jesus is not interested in mob justice, and so he emphasizes the role of due process: “that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” And of course Jesus’s emphasis on due process is consistent with the entirety of Scripture (e.g. Gen. 9:5-6; Exod. 18:19-23; Lev. 5:1; Num. 35:30; Deut. 19:15-20; Prov. 6:16-19; 18:17; Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19).
To be sure, Matthew 18 has a local church process in mind. Yet I think the value Jesus places on due processes for correcting sin can be extended broadly: we should generally treat people as innocent until concrete evidence exists that requires us to do otherwise. Even the secular courts do.
That, in turn, raises the issue of “due process”:
A crucial change in the race conversation, best I can tell, is the demotion of due process, a phrase that, these days, incites sighs of exasperation and anger on Twitter. We have moved from “innocent until proven guilty” to a “guilty until proven innocent” based on the narrative. Yet abandoning due process isn’t just a technicality. It’s putting ourselves in the position of God. It assumes we possess sovereign Knowledge.
To be sure, I understand why people who have experienced abuse or injustice become impatient with due process. Part of life’s futility, says Solomon, is that, even in the places where we’re supposed to receive justice, we receive more wickedness (Eccl. 3:16). Yet we cannot throw out due process. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Somehow the Bible manages to concede that we’ll receive wickedness from the house of justice and to emphasize due process over and over and over.
Imagine living with a certain demographic in your church as if they were guilty of lust until proven innocent. You don’t wait until something concrete rises to the surface, requiring a Matthew 18 rescue-intervention. Instead, you say to this group, “Well, you’ve been guilty of lust for the last twenty years of your life. I assume you’re still guilty, at least until you prove to me otherwise.” This, to me, does not sound like a charitable, gospel-centered church I would want to join, but one given to Phariseeism. And I say this believing that lust and sexual sin are ongoing individual and systemic problems, probably still hiding in the hearts of many folk in the church. We must teach about lust in all its forms. Still, we live with one another charitably assuming the best and treating one another as innocent until proven guilty.
My sense is, the excesses and Phariseeism of race essentialism has hindered many pastors from teaching about race and racism, which brings us to the last part of my own story. Over the last few years, I admit I’ve taught on race considerably less, because I cannot go where the conversation has gone. I’ve dipped in a toe, but confusion resulted.
Still, we need to be able to talk about race and racism. . . . Ethnic partiality in all its forms remain, and it will until Christ comes again. And so pastors must teach and disciple.
Finally, Leeman offers four ways that we can be race conscious, teach against racism, and not propogate race essentialism:
First, we must build our language and categories around Scripture, as Shai Linne demonstrates in the book mentioned above. We can use other resources and stories . . . but only to assist us in understanding Scripture and applying Scripture.
Second, I’ve tried to carve out a pathway in this article for helping people talk about race without yielding to race essentialism by calling it race consciousness. I trust that can be improved on. Yet it involves both law and gospel. The law helps us to be aware of racial transgression and to repent when necessary. The gospel helps us to experience forgiveness and extend that same forgiveness so that we might be one new man. To put this another way, race consciousness combines color blindness and color consciousness.
Third, we should learn from history, but refrain from an implicit historicism of oppression.
That means, fourth, we treat one another as innocent until proven guilty, insisting on due process before handing out indictments. Folks used to call this giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Apart from due process, we will necessarily remain divided and tribalized. There is no way around that.
Whether or not you agree with every jot and tittle, I would say that Leeman has given us a lot of food for thought here, and an onramp for future discussions.