In the shadow of race-related protests across the country, eleven prominent Christian leaders gathered at the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination for a discussion on race and the church. The event — dubbed “A Time to Speak” — was held at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, and was sponsored by the Kainos Movement, as well as LifeWay/MinistryGrid, Fellowship Memphis Church, and The Gospel Coalition.
Bryan Loritts, the conference’s host pastor, said he was led to organize the event because he wondered where the ‘conservative evangelical’ voice was in the wake of the decision not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner. The panelists for the two-hour event which was moderated by LifeWay Research president, Ed Stetzer, included:
- Thabiti Anyabwile, assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
- Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas
- Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas-Fort Worth
- Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis
- Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina
- John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary
- Trillia Newbell, writer and author
- Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia
- Albert Tate, pastor of Fellowship Monrovia in Monrovia, California
Early on in the first hour, the panelists discussed a controversial article by Pastor Voddie Baucham which was published by The Gospel Coalition. Baucham explained his position further, and said, ‘Our system is not perfect, but I reject the category of ethnic injustice in America.’ Thabiti Anyabwile said that the article which stated that Michael Brown ‘reaped what he sowed’, ‘landed on the law and not the gospel.’
Matt Chandler was asked to expand on an article he wrote several weeks ago during the first uproar over Ferguson in which he stated that white privilege was alive and well. Chandler, who pastors a predominantly white church in north Texas, said that in his experience, it is more difficult for African-American and minority pastors to get funding and resources for their churches. He stated that the problem of racial division in the church is ‘a discipleship issue — it’s that we aren’t walking with each other because it’s risky.’ Expressing his aim to cultivate more real relationships with minorities in his life, he said, ‘My goal is not to be black enough, but to be the people of God.’
John Piper challenged pastors to be courageous enough to address racial issues from the pulpit. He said, ‘There are cowards in the pulpit’ when it comes to preachers discussing issues like race and abortion. He added that pastors must ‘preempt the issues of abortion and racism with the Bible and give people a biblical language to understand the issues.’
Pastor Derwin Gray expressed his disappointment with how the church often points fingers at the world and cries racism, when it hasn’t addressed the issue within its own walls. He said that the church must be a place where racial reconciliation is lived out as a demonstration to the world.
Pastor Darrin Patrick, who leads a multi-campus church in the St. Louis area, said his ministry is stepping in to provide services for the community in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson. His church has provided a team of lawyers and counseling services for those who need them. He said they have also met with a close member of Michael Brown’s family and have offered to help in any way they can.
America might be making progress on race when we see a panel of black and white articulate ministers of the Gospel dialoguing together on this issue, and you actually have white leaders rebuking white people and black leaders rebuking black people. We might be further down the road on race than what the panelists themselves realize and what many in America may realize.