In light of the recent tragedies in Baton Rouge, LA and Falcon Heights, MN involving the fatal police shootings of two black men, Rob Daniels, executive pastor of Westbrook Christian Church, expressed his thoughts in today’s post. **NOTE: This was written hours before further senseless tragedy unfolded in Dallas.
It will be hard for many people to read these words and not think that I am bashing the church. But that is not my goal. If it were not for the church, I would have grown up a very hurt and confused person. No, it was the church that gave me purpose and direction in life. It was the church, that when I finally understood what a personal relationship with Jesus really meant, provided me with opportunities in this life that I could have never dreamed of on my own. However, when I now speak about the silence of the church that took me into its bosom, my intention is not to destroy or tear her apart, this space that can transform men, women and children into terrifyingly glorious creatures, but rather to be painfully honest about what I have observed in 30 years as a church leader and pastor.
Essentially, I am part of a church that has no clue and no authentic desire to see Galatians 3:28 become a reality. It can’t. Because if it did, writing this would be unnecessary. I would be able to point to specific example after example where our churches have stood up, living out their theology in a way that exposes and destroys the wretched sociology of our racialized nation. I’m not going to cut anyone any slack on this because feelings don’t matter on this one. Only doing the right thing in the eyes of God matters.
I am sure there will be more people who take more time to focus on the issue of me not being fair or sounding like an angry black man or whatever, instead of spending that same energy on dealing with their own level of complicity as it relates to the racism that is sickeningly prevalent in our culture and society.
There will be plenty of people who, because they don’t know what to say or how to respond, will still feel justified in ultimately saying and doing nothing.
There will be people who will cry out and ask people like me what they should do and my answer will be the same, I don’t know what you should do but whatever you have been doing, you need to stop doing that and most of the time what you have been doing is nothing… so, how about starting there and at least doing the opposite of that?
From early on in my life, I have found a way to move among whites without causing them much discomfort. What I felt however was a bit harder to define. But because it has always been very obvious to me from an early age that making white people upset could have painfully disastrous consequences for a person of color, I learned how to behave in non-threatening ways. I have paid a price for that as well. Everything from being considered a race sell-out to an Uncle Tom have been said of me by someone at sometime. But I didn’t care because my mind always thought that even though racially I was different, once we got past the issue of skin tone, surely things would be different.
From the very beginning of my relationship with the Christian Church in particular, it has been obvious that my face served to help make it appear that we were a diverse movement of churches. Being part of the public relations community of a couple of Christian Colleges made those otherwise racially monochromatic environments at least carry a whiff of diversity. I allowed it to happen, nobody forced me to sing in the groups, help recruit other students from around the nation or speak of the good things that being part of a Christian college could bring. I sincerely believed that it could be a ministry role for change. Looking at our movement over the last many years, it is clear to see that our churches have exploded in growth, expansion, and innovative leadership. They have attracted significant numbers of people and are considered some of the most culture-shaping and impacting churches of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But even a cursory glance at our most significant churches (and Christian colleges) reveal a movement that has has failed to match its commitment to spreading the gospel to a commitment to living the gospel as the church in Acts did, particularly at Antioch.
It is interesting to me that theologically speaking, our churches and their leaders have absolutely no problem telling individuals that the first step in recognizing that they have a problem (whether it is an addiction, character flaw or whatever) is to simply admit it. Confess it. Be truthful, let that truth set you free as Jesus spoke of in John’s gospel. But in terms of making a corporate move toward confession and repentance, that is a non-starter for a host of rather weak reasons. Mostly because I would say our Restoration churches are more beholden to the culture around them rather than living above that same culture in order to be obedient to the message of Jesus Christ. Confessing and rooting out the sin of racism within the movement has been relegated to side conversations and the occasional workshop.
I recall the commitment that spread across the Independent Christian Churches in the mid to late 1980’s to confront the shortage of churches all across the nation and around the world. Something had to be done! God’s heart for the new church work found clear support from the New Testament! After all, we are a New Testament people! The enthusiasm, the heightened visibility, the economic investment seemed to be limitless. It was impossible for a good number of years not to read a publication, step onto a college campus, attend a local church, a regional or national event and not be challenged to join with this expansive commitment to planting new churches.
I am still waiting for our most prominent and well known pastors and ministers, publications, colleges, universities and local churches to take a similar position with regard to the New Testament teaching of the multi-ethnic church, or even New Testament teaching about the the dividing wall of hostility. I am not confident that collectively that will ever happen. Ever.
Am I mad? No.
Because the issue that is the issue doesn’t need to be explained or understood anymore now than it ever has. Was I mistaken to believe that Christian Churches would be radically different in confronting the sin of racism and its continuing divesting effects in our society? Please prove me wrong.
I don’t hate the church, I am not going to leave the church, but I do wonder if, while I have been standing here dealing with the seemingly intractable issue of racism in our national context and at a deeply personal level as well, the church I thought knew, I wished I knew all these years, perhaps has left me instead.
About Rob Daniels
Rob Daniels serves as Executive Pastor of Westbrook Christian Church a growing, vibrant multi-ethnic church in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Having grown up in an ethnically diverse community and having a multi-ethnic family has shaped a unique perspective on issues related to race and ethnicity. In addition, having served on the staff of churches in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Naperville and Carol Stream, Illinois and Indianapolis has provided a wealth of practical insight on leadership issues in the local church.