Emmanuel Acho wants to know: Why is the white American church largely absent from the fight against racism? This is a question the former NFL player explored with Hillsong East Coast pastor Carl Lentz in Episode 7 of Acho’s series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
“If change is truly going to start, it has to start in houses of worship,” said Acho. “It has to start with people of faith. It has to start with white people, black people, having an uncomfortable confrontation filled with compassion.” But the fact is, “Every Sunday morning in houses of worship, America is about as segregated as it ever can be.” Acho asked Lentz, “Why is that?”
“I think it could be said that churches might be one of the biggest propagators of racist ideology in our country,” said Lentz, observing, “There’s a difference between your principle and your practical.” Just because churches say in principle that they value all people does not mean they are living out this value in practice. One reason why Lentz believes black people stick to predominantly black churches has to do with white believers’ silence about racism. “It’s hard to listen to a preacher preach if you know that preacher believes in systems that are hurting your people,” he said.
Acho expressed that the silence of the church is extremely frustrating to him. He would rather hear white believers say something about racism, even if what they say is wrong, than to continue in silence. “You can’t address a problem that you don’t admit exists,” he said. “It took a black man getting murdered on camera by an officer with his knee on his neck to finally wake people up.”
Lentz: Think of It as a Filthy House
To explain why white believers do not want to speak out against racism, Lentz used the analogy of an extremely messy house. Contemplating cleaning a filthy home is overwhelming.
“This is what happens with racism,” said the pastor. “The moment you start looking into this, you realize, oh wow, this goes all the way to the top. This is in our church choir, This is in our church administration, this is in the way we’ve taught the Bible. And there are a lot of Christians who set out to clean house until they find out how close to home it might come.” What white believers have been doing instead is comparable to throwing all of the junk in the house into one room when guests come over. We’ve been doing that “for decades,” said Lentz, but now all of our mess is “starting to overflow.”
In addition to their silence about racism, something else that frustrates Acho about white Christians is when they make ignorant statements, such as, “It’s not about race, it’s about grace” or “It’s not about skin, it’s about sin.” He said, “It is about skin and it is about race because race and skin is what is being punished and executed in America right now.”
The fact is, said Lentz, that white people have been able to get away with making ignorant statements for a long time. “Even the notion that we get to pick and choose when we want to invade this conversation is in essence racism at its finest.”
Acho pointed out that the goal of Christianity is to emulate Jesus Christ and wondered what Jesus would be doing in our situation. “I ask you,” he said to Lentz, “if Jesus was walking the earth, would he be marching? Would he be posting a black square on his Instagram?”
“There’s no question where Jesus would be,” Lentz answered. “Where did you find him when we have record of him? Who was he with?”
“Who was he angering is more important,” the pastor continued, seeming to imply that Jesus was angering the religious leaders of his day. The people he spent time with were the “wrong people,” such as women or tax collectors like Zacchaeus, said Lentz. “He’s where the hurting are.”
The pastor believes one of the reasons why many white Christians are not fighting for those who are hurting from racial inequality is that it will cost those believers money, acclaim, and power. Another is that some do not understand how to be a true peacemaker. To truly make peace instead of merely keeping it, said Lentz, “You have to go find war. You have to find trouble. You have to find the hurting in order to bridge this gap.”