August 2020

August 2020

Why Haven’t I Been Preaching Against Racism?

Ever since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police over two months ago, race has been a topic of pressing concern, not least within the Church. While there has been opportunity for potentially helpful reflection on the challenges facing our black communities and how best to address them, I have honestly been deeply concerned as I have watched the progress of the controversy and tried to find my own place within it. Many voices have been raised demanding that our churches publicly condemn racism and align themselves with a new movement called “antiracism.” Please allow me to share with you my own view on how this has been developing, and how we should respond.

The teaching of antiracism, as I understand it, is that America was founded as a racist society, with racist institutions designed to keep white people in power over black people. Not only slavery, but all of American law and culture, including the institution of policing, is oppressive by design. In fact, this extends not only to America, but to European civilization generally, including the Christian Church. The nuclear family, i.e., father and mother raising their children as man and wife, is a racist construct (hence the alliance of Black Lives Matter with the LGBTQ movement). Even the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth, which can be arrived at through a process of human reason, is part of this racist system of oppression. If you are white, you are a participant in and beneficiary of this racist system, whether you want to be or not. The only appropriate response is to undergo a lifelong process of self-examination and repentance for complicity in systemic racism (called “checking your privilege”) and become fully supportive of Black Lives Matter. Many individuals and organizations have therefore issued statements acknowledging the existence of “systemic racism” and pledging their support of Black Lives Matter.

Pressure to do the same has come to our own church body. For instance, a petition entitled “A Call for Racial Justice Reform in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” with over 5,000 signers so far, accuses our church body of having what it calls “systemic issues” with race. As evidence for this, it is pointed out that, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, the LCMS is the third-least racially diverse church body in the country. That, according to the tenets of antiracism, makes us racist (no other explanations for our demographic composition are permitted). The petition therefore asks us to “confess that our thoughts, words, and deeds have created, deepened, and sustained the lasting wounds of racial prejudice, inequality, and injustice.” We are to “dismantle the systems of racism within our congregations, communities, and church body.”

Do these words ring true to you? Have you seen evidence that our church is built on “systems of racism” that need to be dismantled? What might these systems be? Look at our own congregation. We are, without a doubt, predominantly white, though we deeply love our black members and guests, as we love all of our church family. Does that make us racist? According to the tenets of antiracism, yes, it does. But according to an older, more reasonable definition of racism, I do not believe that our congregation or our church body are racist in the least.

What is this older, more reasonable definition of racism? I would define it as hatred toward one’s neighbors based on their race, or a spirit of superiority based on one’s own race. So one could cite the biblical sins of hatred and pride, and simply say that racism is hatred and pride motivated by racial differences.

It is undeniable that racial hatred and pride were a serious problem earlier in our country’s history, leading to many unjust deaths and untold human suffering, particularly among our black populations. I’ll admit that I’ve been shocked and dismayed as I’ve learned more about this history in recent months. But that makes it all the more remarkable how far we’ve come as a society since the mid-twentieth century. The United States is now one of the least racist societies on earth—at least according to the commonsense definition of racism. According to the new dogmas of antiracism, however, racism is in our blood. It’s here to stay, and there’s no getting rid of it as long as our societal institutions continue. Racism is the sole explanation for the demographic composition of our church body, and the only way to deal with it is to root out all of our traditional institutions and remake our society—and our church—on antiracist principles.

I am not willing to do that. I do not believe that I am a racist in any meaningful sense. I do not believe that our church is racist. I do not believe that you are racist. I believe that a far greater threat than any imagined “systemic racism” in our country and in our church is the antiracism movement itself, which seeks the destruction and replacement of our institutions. (Note: This is not to deny that much of what is identified as “systemic racism” is an actual problem that needs to be addressed. We need police reform, and there are many steps we could take to aid our black neighbors. But that doesn’t mean that racism is the problem.)

So I will preach against real threats. I will preach against the destruction of marriage and family in our society. I will preach against the killing of children through abortion. I will preach against the sins that are known to me to infect the hearts of our own people. But until I am shown otherwise, I have no reason to believe that racism is among them. When I see evidence that racism has the potential to tempt or affect those under my care, then I will preach against it.

Keep loving your neighbor of every race and tribe. Keep seeking true justice and wellbeing for others wherever God has given you influence. Keep struggling against sin. And keep looking forward to the heavenly city, where Jesus will grant us perfect and eternal peace, unity, and love.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf