Emily Belz on Race, Social Media, and the Church

Protesters in Boston. (Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa)
Protesters in Boston. (Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa)

An all-star cast of theologically conservative pastors and church leaders gathered Tuesday night at the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., for a session of self-examination. The leaders were concerned with how both pastors and congregants responded to the recent deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City, and how that reflected Christian attitudes about race. The Gospel Coalition, LifeWay Christian Resources, and the Kainos Movement sponsored the event.

“I think our immaturity in the area of the gospel and race … was deeply exposed,” said Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia and an African American.

John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, challenged pastors.

“There are cowards in the pulpit who won’t touch [abortion] with a 10-foot pole, and how much less racism,” he said. “So my first plea is, be bold. My second thing, preempt the issues on abortion, racism, and others. Biblically, go there first. Capture the vocabulary, otherwise you’ll inherit the Fox News vocabulary, whatever vocabulary, instead of biblical vocabulary.”

Albert Tate, pastor of Fellowship Monrovia in Monrovia, Calif., also called on Christians to think biblically rather than politically: “Our disciples sound more like the disciples of Fox News and CNN than they do the disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Sprinkled through the two-hour conversation were mentions of tweets and Facebook comments, the tools pastors now have to gauge their parishioners’ temperatures.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, said he saw Facebook posts and tweets from his predominantly white, affluent congregants and grew “aggravated.” He found it “crazy” that people were offended by the Twitter hashtag blacklivesmatter. He posted an article on white privilege and said he “knew it was going to be a long day.”

“My primary concern for a church that is primarily white affluent was to help them understand why they were not understanding what was going on in all these instances,” Chandler said. “What I’m seeing is an inability or unwillingness from my Anglo brothers and sisters to consider what it’s like to be in the 13th percentile of American society.”

Others also brought up the troubling comments they encountered online.

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Emily Belz, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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