Lecture 1: Racial Injustice in the Church
- Limitations of Zoom- please don’t try and do something else. We will break into smaller rooms and we will ask you to talk.
- Limitations of 3 weeks-
- I am a white evangelical, which is not defined by party alliance but by submission to Scripture and the way I get treated in society because of the amount of melanin in my skin.
As a white evangelical, I am inviting my church to think about racial injustice.
- I am the rector of Restoration Anglican Church and I am your pastor. In order for you to be fully formed into the image of Christ, you have to consider this history and be open to lament, repentance, and repair. That is me speaking as your spiritual authority. This is an important part of our discipleship.
- We have all experienced injustice. Many of us have experienced abuse and trauma. Our personal experience influences how we come to this conversation and we need to be aware of it. If we can acknowledge our personal experience, we can actually set it next to us, knowing that it is our experience, but working to hear the experience of another.
Ezekiel 34: a snapshot that illustrates Biblical Justice
Explain the fall of Jerusalem and what went wrong.
The prophet Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon in 597 BC. He was called by God to his office at the age of 30 and his particular ministry extended over 23 years. The city of Jerusalem and the temple of God were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC. “Like all the prophets, this book is not a manual of theology, but the word of God to a battered remnant in exile that is experiencing what the theologians of the time had considered impossible.” Ezekiel experienced exile— the consequence of Israel’s sin. From exile, he wrote of a future restoration.
Why did this happen? Chapter 34 is one snapshot that explains what Israel did wrong which lead to this consequence of exile. It is a chapter that helps us understand and see the heart of God for justice and mercy.
Read verses 1-2
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
The shepherds were the leaders of Israel— politically the kings and leaders, religiously the priests— those who were entrusted with the care and protection of the people. Those who were called to feed the sheep. Of course! Righteous leaders are called to create systems where people have the opportunity to flourish— systems of justice.
Shepherds, leaders create systems where people experience justice and have access to what they are due as image bearers of God. Biblical justice begins in being created in the image of God.
The Problem (3-4): Instead, the shepherds have created a system of injustice that benefits themselves. They are feeding themselves instead of feeding the sheep.
- They use them: They eat the fat, clothe with the wool. They don’t feed the sheep.
- They don’t take care of the vulnerable: you have not strengthened the weak, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought.
- And… as leaders over systems of injustice often do, they have ruled with force and harshness. Because when some people get more than they are due and others get less, you have to keep them in line— mute their voice, limit their access.
The result (5-6): They were scattered.
5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
Being scattered is such an effective picture of the results of sin, of what it means to be in exile, of the fruit of injustice. Scattered sheep are vulnerable to wolves and predators. They are unable to take care of themselves. Bad things can happen and good things (like rest and food) can’t happen. Systems of racial injustice scatter, create vulnerable people. It grieves you. It grieves God.
10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
He is against the shepherds. God holds people and systems accountable for the way they treat the least, the last, and the left out.
God becomes very personal and very possessive. I will require MY sheep at their hand.
“God is talking about his own people. This is repeated no fewer than 5x up to v. 10 alone. It not only expresses Yahweh’s personal concern for the flock that is being so badly treated, but also makes clear where the true ownership lies. The shepherds did not own the flock; they were simply employed to look after it. The Kings did not own the people; they were simply entrusted with exercising justice and leadership in their midst. But the temptation to regard those entrusted to one’s care or leadership as one’s personal property, a mini-empire, is powerful.” Chris Wright
Because they are His, God will do what the shepherds did not (verses 11-12). He will search, seek, and rescue. His response corresponds perfectly to the problem. What is scattered must be gathered.
God’s intervention in a system of injustice is His means of rescue.
God’s purpose in rescue is to restore, to make right, to make what is what was intended to be. In response to His question in v. 2— should not shepherds feed the sheep? YES! He answers it himself in v. 14 ‘I will feed them with good pasture….and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…’
Which is of course what He always has been. God is always God. He is always King over the universe.
They were never NOT his sheep. He didn’t stop shepherding. He entrusted HIS sheep to people and to systems where they could flourish but instead they were wronged, abused, and scattered. // God does not miss that. God will make it right. Now his shepherding is to be against those who were supposed to be shepherding on His behalf.
READ THIS: 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
Let me remind you of the Biblical arc of justice:
Creation. What ought to be— shepherds feeding the sheep.
Fall. What is— shepherds consuming the sheep
Redemption. What can be— rescue, God feeding us in justice
Restoration. What will be— the renewal of all things, security, provision, abundance
The Bible begins with creation: every person has been made in the image of God with inherent worth and dignity. The Bible ends with restoration: a beautiful picture of heaven where people from every language, tongue, and tribe gather around the throne to worship the risen Christ.
In between, we know that we are called to love our neighbor and we know that the Lord hates injustice.
These are precious truths and a high calling. Which brings us to our current experience as American Christians. We ask for humble discernment as we talk about our history and the racial injustice of the church. We recognize that we have come a long way from 1619 and we acknowledge that many agents of change have been followers of Jesus and we accept that we still have a long way to go to see God’s justice for all people.
Notes on TCOC Chapters 1-4
Chapter 1: The Color of Compromise
“Our country’s complicated, imperfect history…” Lecrae
He defines terms and identifies objections.
p.15 ‘History and Scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance… no repentance without confession… no confession without truth. TCOC is about telling the truth so that reconciliation- robust, consistent, honest reconciliation- might occur across racial lines…’
p. 16 Racism: a system of oppression based on race. Beverly Daniel Tatum
prejudice plus power- not only personal bigotry toward someone of a different race, includes the imposition of bigoted ideas on groups of people.
p.16 white supremacy- identifies white people and white culture as normal and superior
p.17 complicity- involved
p.21 ‘people who will reject this book will leave several common objections’ What are yours?
- too liberal
- too Marxist communist
- the extended discussion reduces black people to a state of helplessness and a ‘victim mentality’
- point to counterexamples and say that racists do not represent the ‘real’ American church
- the historical facts are wrong or misinterpreted
- a discussion of race is ‘abandoning the gospel’
Chapter 2 Making Race in the Colonial Era
Thesis of this chapter: Nothing about American racism was inevitable. 1500-1700 race was still being made. The foundations were laid for race-based stratification.
p.18 Things could have been different. At several points in American history- colonial era, Reconstruction, demise of Jim Crow, Xian’s could have confronted racism instead of compromising. Although the missed opportunities are heartbreaking, the fact that people can choose is also empowering. Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today.
p.19 skin color is simply a physical trait. It is a feature that has no bearing on one’s intrinsic dignity. People invented racial categories. Race and racism are social constructs.
p. 27 No biological basis for the superiority or inferiority of any human being based on the amount of melanin in her or his skin. The development of the idea of race required the intentional actions of people to decide that skin color determined who would be enslaved and who would be free.
African Slave Trade in N. America
1619 arrival of slaves in VA.
p.34 Colonists may have initially seen Africans in America as laborers just like any other and patterned their economy and politics to allow for their full inclusion. American history could have happened another way. Instead, racist attitudes and the pursuit of wealth increasingly relegated black people to a position of perpetual servitude and exploitation.
p. 35 shift towards slavery over indentured servitude happened gradually over the last few decades of 17th century.
- life expectancy increased making lifelong labor a more lucrative investment
- scarcity of labor, fewer new Europeans, indigenous population decreased.
p. 35 mid 17th C- slave codes
p. 36 hereditary heathenism: tethered race to religion. European meant ‘Christian’ and native American or African meant ‘heathen’. Could be interrupted by marrying into the ‘better’ spiritual lineage of English Christians.
p.38 the separation between spiritual and physical freedom. “You declare in the present of God… that you do not ask for holy baptism out of any desire to free yourself from the Duty and Obedience you owe to your master…”
p.39 a way to spread faith without confronting the exploitative economic system of slavery and the emerging social inequality based on color.
“It took decades for patterns of unfree labor to harden into a from of slavery that treated human beings as property and dictated a person’s station in life based on skin color. Christianity became identified with the emerging concept of ‘whiteness’ while people of color, including indigenous peoples and Africans, became identified with unbelief.” p.39
Chapter 3: Understanding Liberty in the age of Revolution and Revival
Thesis: The ironic formation of the Declaration of Independence
p.41 “While white soldiers and political leaders were declaring their inalienable right to independence, they were also enslaving countless women’s men, and children of African descent.
p.43 ‘Whatever religion they practiced, the authors of the Declaration of Independence appealed to the idea of universal human liberty passed down from an all-powerful deity. Many Christians of the time would have understood this language as a reference to their God.”
p.44 moved American Christians toward more informal and less structured forms of worship.
Enslaved Africans did not merely adopt Christianity, they made it their own.
p.45 Why were Black people attracted to Christianity? To revival preaching?
p.46 George Whitefield. moderation on slavery morphed into outright support.
1738- planning for the Bethesda Orphanage. purchased a 640 acre plantation, with slaves, to support the work of the orphanage.
p.49 Jonathan Edwards.
1731, compromised Christian principles by enslaving human beings. Purchased his first enslaved African, owned several other people.
p.50 He seemed to accept slavery, so long as masters treated their enslaved persons with dignity, on the basis of slavery’s apparently tacit acceptance in the Bible.
p.51 a moderate view of slavery:
both accepted spiritual equality of black and white people
both preached message of salvation to all
neither had concern that extended to advocating for physical emancipation
neither saw anything in the Bible that forbade slavery
white Christians believed that the Bible merely regulated slavery in order to mitigate its most brutal abuses.
p.54 “Racial segregation in Christian churches occurred in the 18th century in large part because white believers did not oppose the enslavement of African persons. Instead, Christians sought to reform slavery and evangelize the enslaved. In the process, they learned to rationalize the continued existence of slavery. Many white Christians comforted themselves with the myth that slavery allowed them to more adequately care for the material and spiritual needs of enslaved Africans.”
Chapter 4 Institutionalizing Race in the Antebellum Era
St. Philips- not admitted to diocese of NY in 1846
p.57 ‘At the outset of the 19thC, the USA could have become a worldwide beacon of diversity and equality. It could have adopted the noble ideals written in the Declaration of Independence.
- Fugitive Slave Clause
- 3/5s Compromise- south did not want to be taxed for its slaves, the north did not want slaves counted for representation in congress.
p.59 The nation’s political leaders used black lives as bargaining chips to preserve the union of states and to gain leverage for other policy issues. Although the abolition movement started gaining momentum during this time, America made its peace with slavery for the next several decades.
p.60 The Chattel Principle- the social alchemy that transformed a human being made in the image of God into a piece of property. “The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.”
- break up of nuclear families and marriages
- black women valued for productive and reproductive abilities
- rape was inevitable aspect of slave life.
p.66 Paternalistic and Proslavery Christianity
interracial interaction in church did not come from the egalitarian aspirations of white Christians; rather, interracial congregations were an expression of paternalism and a means of controlling slave beliefs and preventing slave insurrection.
p.69 Charles Finney, president of Oberlin College, great preacher of the 2nd Great Awakening.
He stood for abolition but against integration: social reform would come through individual conversion not through the reform of institutions. Social change comes about through evangelization. ‘Once a person believes in Christ as Savior and Lord, he or she would naturally work toward justice and change.’
“This belief led to a fixation on individual conversion without a corresponding focus on transforming the racist policies and practices of institutions, a stance that has remained a constant feature of American evangelicalism and has furthered the American church’s easy compromise with slavery and racism.”
1. What did you notice in pages 1-70 that was new to you? This is very open-ended. Please make note of any themes and repeated questions.
2. What is the connection between the points that David made about Ezekiel 34 and the experience of racial injustice in the church?
3. From the opening third of the book, how might God be leading Restoration to respond? Very open-ended. We will ask this question regularly, listening for congruence and repeated themes