There’s no sense pretending otherwise: evangelicals, including many prominent Reformed theologians, have left us a mixed legacy of race relations. Respectable church leaders owned slaves. Others fought against this wicked institution with sacrificial zeal. Some sought to undermine and ultimately eradicate segregation. Others assumed it was God’s will for harmonious relations between the nations.
Younger generations raised to revere the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. easily forget the consternation he caused many conservative evangelicals with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Visitors to Alabama’s largest city now arrive at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. We may not recall that the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (who died last month) was enemy number one for many churchgoers who attributed the racial strife to his agitation.
John Piper can’t ignore this history—at least not in good conscience. He lived it and now looks back with regret on what he once believed. Writing in his new book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (Crossway) [review], he confesses support for segregation and opposition to interracial marriage as blind spots for him and his family. By the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can confess these sins, which Jesus forgives through his atoning death for people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
I sat down and talked with Piper about issues raised in his book, including the need to confront the sins of our fathers even as we learn from Christians in other centuries to expose today’s blind spots.