The Church Justice

Burn It All: Refusing to Reconcile with Compromise

Robert Callahan

The division caused by racism in American Christianity reminds me of the plot of the novel Lord of the Flies. The story goes like this (spoiler alert – seriously, you’ve had 67 years): Marooned on an island without adult guidance, a group of prim and proper British boys turns nearly-feral. They create a tribalistic civilization normalizing cruelty, savagery, and murder.

The book concludes when the hunting party, and the peer they’re chasing, run into a naval officer on the beach. They’ve been rescued. The man surveys the pack of spear-wielding children adorned in loincloths and war paint emerging from a jungle engulfed in flames and asks, “What are you doing?”. The question prompts tears and long overdue introspection. The officer’s presence brings an objective truth that defies the distorted reality the children constructed for themselves. 

Similarly, Black people know that when our heavenly Father returns, the American Church will be forced to confront an undeniable reality that exhumes our true but buried identities as he asks us, “What are you doing?” However, the American Church does not have to wait until the end to begin that introspection. Nor should it. We need to shed the lies with which we have adorned ourselves. First among these is that our faith demands our continued presence in spiritually abusive relationships.

My favorite meme of the past year reads: “I don’t want to start the new year on bad terms with anyone. So, apologize to me.” Initially, this witticism feels arrogant. The author’s position claims a monopoly on the truth when there are usually two sides to any issue. Right? Here’s a (somehow) controversial truth: for Christians, there is only one correct perspective regarding racism. 

Jesus taught us what the correctly functioning Bride of Christ looks like. We serve the King who possesses the singular, accurate perspective of how his universe should work. Therefore, we must conform to his standard and his expectations as they are articulated in his Word. We can know with certainty that we see things as Christ does when we aggressively confront racism. Said plainly, we must dissect white supremacy from the body of Christ for it to function correctly. 

Presently, there are calls for unity in the Church and politics. After so many years of estrangement—most recently due to Trumpism, gaslighting, and erasure—how can Black people hope to build relationships with our spiritual siblings in the white Evangelical church? Should we? Without a commitment to a holistic understanding of the imago Dei (the image of God), calls for unity remain a pretense for conformity under the banner of cultural Christianity. Such unity, a “negative peace,” cannot be our aim. Unity is a mechanism—the manner and means of achievement—not the product. Anyone who looks at the state of the American Church today and says, “There is no problem,” is the problem. 

After all that Black people have seen and been traumatized by, we must be leery of congregations that are afraid to sully their brand with the controversy of dignifying Black and Brown lives. In his book, When to Walk Away, Gary Thomas highlights the story of the rich young ruler to emphasize that in the Bible, “[o]ne thing we don’t see when others walk away is Jesus giving chase.” 

Thomas reminds us that not everyone who heard Jesus changed, repented, or agreed with him. This can be a lonely path to walk, but, as Thomas insists, “[s]ometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or let them walk away from us.” So be it. 

Jesus spoke clearly of how we are to honor him by loving our neighbors. Therefore, assigning blame to “both sides” or feigning uncertainty of his expectations of us is rebellion. As ambassadors of Christ, we must remain committed to equity, inclusion, and defending the cause of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. If we sense ourselves walking further from cultural Christianity, it is because they fell behind. A chasm exists between us because cultural Christianity has cut the bridge’s rope from the other side of the ravine. It is up to the white church to rebuild the bridge and find its way across as we turn to face the path God has called us to.

 Let us be unified, yes. Let us be unified in God’s understanding of what Justice demands. Let us be unified in love for neighbor, compassion, and empathy. Let us be united in truth. We will achieve unity when the white church–namely white evangelicals–join Black and Brown believers in our commitment to equity, inclusion, and defending the cause of the oppressed.

Friends, I say this in love, but also with conviction: We do not need to reconcile with the white church. The white Evangelical church needs to be reconciled to Christ.