Praying and Working for Justice: Racialization

Praying and Working for Justice: Racialization

The topics of race and social justice often elicit strong emotions, which is why many pastors and churches tend to stay silent on these issues. However, David Platt argues that these are not topics the church can ignore. Our worship of God is integrally connected to the way we treat our neighbor, including those who don’t look like us. Based on Amos 5:21–24, this sermon exhorts us to consider our role in perpetuating racism, often without realizing it. Every follower of Christ should pray and work for justice in the culture around us.

We are starting this year with 40 days of concentrated prayer, and as I have prayed about where to go in the Word during these days, I believe the Lord is leading us to two different sensitive topics that the church needs to address with God’s Word in our culture today. We know that this weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 15, 1929. And then next weekend, many of you know the churches traditionally celebrate the sanctity of life. 

So as we pray together during these 40 days, it seems most appropriate for us to pray for God’s justice and mercy in a culture that is marked by both racialization and abortion. Now, there are obvious challenges, I trust we all know, that come with both topics. They are politically charged. They evoke a range of thoughts, emotions and opinions. There’s a reason why pastors are hesitant to preach on these topics, because of the variety of responses they inevitably elicit. 

I just want to be clear. This week and next week, my goal as pastor is not to promote my opinions or anyone else’s opinions or political position. You don’t want to hear it from me. I don’t even want to hear it from me. We want to hear from God. My prayer for McLean Bible Church is that we would indeed be united together around the Bible, just as the name of our church says. So my hope today and next Sunday is to help us see how the Bible addresses these major issues in our culture. 

As we dive into them, I want to ask for a little extra measure of grace from you. I know that amidst 12,000 or so people with 12,000 or more opinions, any word I can say could go in 12,000 different directions. So on this topic today, I feel there are land mines everywhere. There’s opportunity to offend white people, black people, people from a variety of different ethnicities. Some people are already offended that I’m even differentiating between different colors of people. So I’ve already offended some of you. On top of that, we know our sensitivity is even heightened after the news the last couple of days here in Washington. 

When I was preparing this sermon, I sent a draft to different pastors and members in our church, and outside our church, just to get counsel. I received so much helpful feedback. The only problem was it was contradictory. Some were saying, “Leave this in. Take that out.” Others were saying, “No, leave that in. Take this out.” So I’m just asking for grace.  

I know it’s really easy for my words to be taken out of context, particularly because we’re going to go a little bit longer than usual in the Word today, and I know it’s possible for you to tune out at some point, then come back in a few minutes later. But if you miss what’s in the middle, you might misunderstand the whole point. 

I want to ask for grace too, because if there’s one conclusion I’ve come to on this topic, it’s that I have so much to learn. In the process of preparing this sermon, God has opened my eyes to blind spots in my life and in my leadership—or lack thereof—in the church on this issue. I’ll share next week how for years I have viewed abortion as a political issue. I didn’t speak about it in the church, which was wrong. Abortion is a biblical issue; so is racism and racialization. This week, to be honest, I’ve been brought to tears, because God has opened my eyes to sinfulness I hadn’t seen in myself. There are things I’ll say today that I might have been offended by before, but now I’m wondering why in the world I haven’t seen or said these things. 

All this to say, I don’t presume to come to this topic with everything figured out. I have so much to learn, and I want to learn from God’s Word together in the context of this church. So I’m just asking for extra grace from God and from you today. In fact, let me pray toward that end—for me and for us. Let’s pray. 

O God, we need You. In our world, we need to hear from You. We as Your people, in a world of sin, have blind spots in our own hearts that we can’t see on our own. We need Your Word and Your Spirit to help us see. I think about my Bible reading yesterday in Matthew 13, where You described a people whose hearts were hard and who couldn’t hear and see. I pray for soft hearts in this place. I pray for my own heart and hearts among us to be soft. I pray, O God, that You would help us to hear Your Word and see Your world as You see it. You alone are wise on this issue—we are not. For any of us who think we have this issue figured out, we pray that You would strike down our pride today. We don’t have it figured out—none of us does. But You do, so we need to hear from You. We want to act. I pray that this would not just be a sermon, but that You would use this church to show Your justice in the world around us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Amos 5:21. This is the Word of God: 

 I hate, I despise your feasts, 

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, 

I will not accept them; 

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, 

I will not look upon them. 

Take away from me the noise of your songs; 

to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 

But let justice roll down like waters, 

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Verse 24 was the passage Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted repeatedly during the civil rights movement and the meaning is crystal clear so this passage doesn’t really require much explanation. The people of Israel were worshiping God. All three of their primary worship offerings were mentioned here: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering. They were worshiping God with loud songs and music. But listen to God’s language. He says, “I hate your offerings. I despise them. I take no delight in them. I will not accept or look upon them. Take them away from Me. I will not listen to your songs.” 

Why is that the case? Why was God rejecting their worship? The answer in verse 24 is clear: they were not working for justice and righteousness around them. God’s people were quick to bring their offerings, raise their hands, sing their songs and worship to God above them, but they were content to ignore injustice around them. And God says, “I hate it. I don’t even want to hear it.” 

So if you’re taking notes, here’s the one truth that Amos 5:21–24 makes clear. If we are going to truly worship God above us, then we must sacrificially work for justice around us. One commentator said justice here would mean fairness for the less fortunate, dignity and compassion for the needy. Righteousness would include the attitudes of mercy and generosity, honest dealings that imitate the character of God. The picture is clear: Israel’s rejection of justice in the social order led to God’s rejection of their songs in worship. God is not honored by mouths and hands that are quick to rise in worship when those same mouths and hands are slow to speak and work against injustice. He hates worship like that. 

So we have to ask the question, as a worshiping community, as the church, as the people who gather together every week to sing our songs and give our offerings to God. Have we been—or are we now—slow to speak and work against racial injustice? I believe the answer to that question is yes. 

Now, I’m going to make a general statement here, which I know is dangerous, because 12,000 of you have 12,000 different lives with 12,000 different experiences. But on a whole, churches in America—instead of bridging the racial divide in our country—have historically widened and are currently widening the racial divide in our country. 

I know that’s a bold statement, but I want to show you in the next few minutes that this is not a matter of opinion, but that this is fact. At the same time I want to show you that this fact does not have to continue. I want to show you in the next few minutes that this can change, that the church can be a powerful—I would say the most powerful—impetus for justice in our culture on the issue of race, if we will humble ourselves before God and one another, praying and working together for justice as the people of God in a way that pleases God. I want to offer six exhortations for the church that I believe we need to hear if we’re truly going to worship God in the time and place in which God has put us. 

1. Amos 5:21–24 and ​Looking at the reality of racialization​. 

For some, racialization might be a strange term. You’re thinking I should say racism and wondering if I’m dodging that term and should just call it what it is. But here’s why I’m not using the term racism. I’m not trying to dodge it. The problem is a lot of people—including a lot of white people—when we hear the word “racist,” we think of the extreme. We think of a white supremicist marching in Charlottesville or a Klan member marching on the streets of Alabama in 1960. We think, “Well, I’m not a white supremicist. I’m not a racist.” 

In fact, many people—many white people especially—think that very few people are racists. We can even start to believe that racism is not much of a problem today. It’s just in those who are extreme. Individually we don’t think we have any prejudice against someone because of their ethnicity. We think and even say that we’re color blind, that it doesn’t matter to us if someone is black or white, when the reality is it does matter in our culture today whether someone is black or white. 

Let me pause for a second and give a couple caveats here. One, we’re thinking today about the historic and current white/black divide in the United States. I know that in this church we have 106 different nations, 106 different ethnicities who face hundreds of unique challenges in American culture. I in no way want us as a church to ignore these challenges. Mike Kelsey, one of our campus pastors, addressed some of those mulit-ethnic dynamics more generally in a sermon not long ago. But today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, we’re specifically thinking about the challenges of the white/black divide in our culture, knowing some of those challenges overlap with all sorts of ethnicities. 

The other caveat here deals with the terms “race” and “ethnicity.” I would prefer to talk only in terms of ethnicity, not race, based on the Bible. When you look in the Bible, from beginning to end, there’s only one race of people. If you were asked the question, “What race were Adam and Eve?” what’s the answer going to be? They’re part of the human race, right? At that point we might wonder, “Well, what color was their skin?”—as if that mattered at all. It doesn’t matter. That’s why the Bible never tells us what color their skin was. Now, in most picture Bibles in the West, we paint a portrait of a white Adam and Eve, but we have no basis for that assumption. For all we know they could have been any color, different colors. If anything, genetics points to the greater possibility that they had darker skin, which is the dominant gene in skin color. 

The point is God’s Word never ever equates membership in the human race with skin tone. Whatever color Adam and Eve and their children were, they contained DNA designed by God that would eventually develop into a multi-colored family across a multi-cultural world. In this way, God’s Word teaches us that regardless of the color of our skin, we all have the same roots. We’re all part of the same race. Which is why I don’t like using the term “race,” because it actually undercuts our unity before God. Any sense of racial heirarchy or inequality—including that which has marked our country’s history based on skin color—goes directly against God’s design. It is sinful at the core. 

So I’d much rather use the term “ethnicity,” because the Bible uses that term in good ways. But in this sinful world, we differentiate according to race, often meaning skin color. So for now, I want to encourage us to look at the reality of racialization. I’m using this term to refer to a society in which race—and specifically black or white skin color—profoundly affects people’s economic, political and social experiences. It’s a society in which race is significant enough to at least be regularly acknowledged and mentioned. 

At a simple practical level, why is it that I would say that Arthur Price is an African-American pastor in Birmingham, rather than just saying he’s a pastor in Birmingham? I never introduce John MacArthur as a Caucasian-American pastor. He’s just a pastor. So we’re not necessarily talking about blunt prejudice here. That’s why I’m not using the term racism. If we look back in American history, many people might wonder, “Aren’t we past this? Yes, slavery was wrong, but slavery is gone, and it’s been gone for decades.” The reality is, we could have said that in 1955, but we all know racism is still alive and well. 

Likewise, we could say today, “Okay, but everybody uses the same water fountains now. We can all sit on the bus wherever we want,” which is true. We need to pause and praise God that those things have changed. I praise God for people in this church—white, black and otherwise—who have worked in different ways to change these realities in our country over the last 50 years. Praise God those are not realities anymore. But just because these realities are no longer true doesn’t mean racialization is gone. 

So let me paint a picture of our country with admittedly broad strokes. I’m not talking about any specific city or community, like D.C. or even the community you may live in. But the facts are these: Black Americans are much more likely to be unemployed than white Americans. The current ratio of two unemployed black people for every one unemployed white person has held pretty constant since 1950. When you measure household wealth, on average the median net worth of black people is 8% of that of white people. Once you take out any equity accrued in a home or vehicle, the median financial assets of black people are zero % of those of white people. 

African-American babies die at a rate of over twice the frequency of white babies. African-American mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white American mothers. Young African-American males are six times more likely to be murdered than are young white American males. We’ve all heard the black/white disparities in the criminal justice system that have been highlighted over recent years. Put it all together—look at every study there is—and you will see that white Americans are far more likely than black Americans to get a quality education, have a high-paying job and live in a more affluent neighborhood with less crime. 

Now, I obviously need to stop here and make two caveats. One, as I mentioned, is a broad-stroke look at the situation. The last thing I’m trying to do is equate black with poor and uneducated. I trust we all know that is not the case. One of my concerns with even talking about this disparity is it might create some artificial sense of pity for African-Americans that actually contributes more to racialization. My point in mentioning these factors is just to make clear that race—specifically white or black skin color—affects one’s life in our country. 

The other caveat is that I’m not even saying why this disparity exists. We have all kinds of ideas about why it exists. We’ll get to that in a minute. But for now, I’m just pointing out that a disparity exists. We can’t deny this. These are not opinions—they’re facts. It matters in our country whether one is white or black. Now, we don’t want it to matter, which is why I think we try to convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. We think to ourselves, “I don’t hold prejudices toward black or white people, so racism is not my problem.” But this is where we need to see that racialization is our problem. It’s all of our problem. We subtly, almost unknowingly, contribute to it. 

I haven’t thought about this in decades, but I remember when I was in middle school one of our neighbors put their house up for sale—and a black family bought it. The word got around that the housing value was going to plummet as a result. People started moving. It mattered when a family with black skin moved into my neighborhood. We might like to think we’re past this today, but residential segregation studies continually show—again, on a national scale, and it may not be true in your neighborhood—the degree of segregation between black people and non-black people is far greater now than between any other two racial groups in the United States. It’s not just in the South. In fact, the farther you get outside the South, a greater percentage of African-Americans in an area corresponds to a greater level of segregation. 

That leads to one more facet of racialization we need to be aware of before we move on—and this is massive. I believe we in the church want racialization to change. In our hearts, as followers of Christ, we want to see an end to racial division and disparity. Yet despite the best intentions of our hearts, the reality is the church today is one of the most segregated institutions in our culture. Over 95% of white Americans attend predominantly white churches. Over 90% of African-Americans attend predominantly black churches. And we know that didn’t just happen overnight. It’s been the case ever since slavery and the discrimnation white churches showed toward black Christians even after the Civil War. Ever since then, all the way up to today, churches in our culture have not only not bridged the racial divide in our country—churches are right now reinforcing that divide. 

Could it be, as much as we like to think the church is a force for countering racialization, that right now we’re a force for continuing it? As we look at all the reasons for racialization in our society, I wonder if we need to pause and begin by looking inside. Brothers and sisters, we need to look at the reality of racialization. We can’t turn a blind eye to its reality in the culture around us or in the church among us. 

Maybe you’d debate this story or that statistic, but in the end we cannot be comfortable as the church with a clear white/black divide that leads to all sorts of inequality in our country. It is not just and it’s not right. We will not be found to be worshiping God if we are found to be ignoring injustice—or worse, increasing injustice. So what do we do? I want to be clear. I don’t presume there are easy answers here. I’m just praying, “God, how does Your Word speak to this?” 

2. ​Live in true multi-ethnic community​. 

We must look at the reality of racialization, and then we should live in true multi-ethnic community. Think of Ephesians 2. In the first century, there was a massive cultural divide between Jews and Gentiles. They didn’t eat with each other or associate with each other. They actually called each other dogs. They had different traditions, different customs and different lifestyles. But what happened? 

The Jews started following Jesus, but so did the Gentiles, which created a problem for many Jews. In the book of Acts, there was a controversy when the Gentiles wanted to be baptized and be part of the church. It was scandalous when they started eating at the same tables and worshiping in the same rooms. Yet Paul wrote Ephesians in part to say, “This is right. You are one now. You’re no longer divided.” Ephesians 2: 14–16 says: 

For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and 

ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 

Paul writes the same thing in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That verse is not denying ethnic or gender distinctions. It’s saying that over and above those real distinctions, together we are one in Christ. The gospel has unique power to bring different people together. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Ultimately division among people—over race or anything else—goes all the way back to Genesis 3, when man and woman sinned against God, separating themselves not only from God, but from one another. Ever since that day it is sin that has stood at the root of all racial pride and prejudice. When Jesus went to the cross, He conquered sin. He made a way for people to be free from it, restored to God in the process and reconciled to one another. That’s why followers of Christ, regardless of skin color, have one Father and are one family. We’re one household, with no dividing wall of hostility based upon ethnic diversity. 

I think about one Good Friday in Birmingham, Alabama, when I had the privilege of preaching at 16th Street Baptist Church. Fifty years before I stood in that church, it was bombed by white people, killing four young black girls. Outside that church, on a Good Friday, Martin Luther King, Jr. had participated in a peaceful march. He was arrested and put in jail where he faced harsh conditions in solitary confinement. Fifty years later, there I stood, invited by the pastor of that church to preach in front of room full of black and white Christians. I was keenly reminded on that Good Friday that the cross is what makes that picture possible. The cross makes multi-ethnic community possible. 

I want to exhort us to pursue that kind of community. Just like Jews and Gentiles in the first century could have chosen to stay separate from one another, to live and eat and worship separately from one another, we could do that. But I want to exhort us not to do that. By God’s grace, this church is an anomaly, having 106 different nations represented here. I praise God for the grace He’s given in an increasingly multi-ethnic staff. Specifically, in the churches we’re partnering with and planting, half of our campus pastors are African-American . 

May this only be the beginning of an ever-increasing multi-ethnic community among us—a true multi-ethnic community. Not just sitting next to each other in a worship service, but sharing life together. I listened to the sermon Mike preached when he mentioned that the most segregated place in America is not necessarily the church but the dinner table. So may that not be true in any one of our lives. Let’s live in true multi-ethnic community. 

Here’s what’s critical and I can’t stress enough how critical this is. Many times the white Christian solution to the racialization stops with simply getting to know somebody of another race or ethnicity, as if that alone will solve the problem. But we have to realize the problem of racialization is far deeper than just individual relationships. This is where I want to bring you a third exhortation. 

3. Amos 5:21–24 and Listening to and learn from each other​. 

In a true multi-ethnic community, we will listen to and learn from one another—specifically from others who don’t look like us and who may not think like us. In the first chapter of James, right before he addresses prejudice, favoritism and partiality in the church, he writes, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). That is a good word for all of us when it comes to racialization. This issue is emotionally charged and filled with tension, and we’re so prone amidst the emotion and tension to think differently about it. We really need to listen to and learn from one another. 

As I was preparing this sermon, I came across research on people’s opinions about why there is such inequality when it comes to race in our country. Basically, researchers gave people different options for contributing factors in racialization. First, they pointed out the disparities between white and black people when it comes to jobs, income and housing. Then they asked, “Why do those disparities exist?” and gave the respondants a spectrum of answers to choose from. On the left end of the spectrum, the respondant could say the disparities were primarily due to a lack of responsibility or personal motivation among individual people to work hard and climb out of poverty. Another selection was that the disparity was due to unequal education—a lack of access to quality education. Or on the right end of the spectrum, they could say that racialization was due primarily to unjust systems and discrimination in society. The researchers interviewed white and black people, then they asked if they were professing Christians. 

Here’s what they found. White non-Christians explained racialization more according to the factors on the left side of the equation—individual motivation and some lack of education—and far less the unjust systems and discrimination. On the other hand, more black non-Christians were prone to answer that racial inequality was due to unjust and discriminating structures and systems, including education. 

But here’s what was interesting. Among professing Christians, the researchers found that white professing Christians were even more likely to answer on the left end of the scale. They were more prone to explain racial disparities as being due to a lack of individual responsibility and personal motivation to get out of poverty. Black professing Christians, however, were even farther on the right side of the scale, more prone to explain racial inequality as being due to discrimination in American systems and structures. 

This is the point. I’m not saying all white people believe one way and all black people believe another. I’m not even saying this is the perfect way to ask these questions. I didn’t come up with the research. However, here’s what I took away from it. What was so eye-opening for me when I saw this was to realize that basically the more Christian you are, so to speak, the more divided you are on the issue of racialization. The idea that if everyone was Christian the racialization problem would disappear is not true. In reality, our faith—which we want to bring us together across races—is at this point actually driving us further apart. 

For me to see this was both humbling and helpful. I started thinking about the tension that exists, not just in the culture, but in the church, in light of the stories from Ferguson or Falcon Heights or Baltimore. My aim is not to oversimplify this in any way, but the reality statistically is that more white people are prone to immediately think on the left side of that scale, while more black people are prone to think on the right side of this scale. 

This affects our thoughts about so many things. It affects how we think about politics, economics, social systems and structures—and how we’re so often on different pages. We know this, don’t we? It was obvious in the last election. Let’s just be honest. Somewhere around 81% of white professing Christians voted for Trump. Around 88% of black professing Christians voted for Clinton. Many black Christians could not fathom how so many of their white brothers and sisters in Christ would vote for Trump. And many white Christians couldn’t fathom how so many of their black brothers and sisters in Christ would vote for Clinton. My aim is not to say who you should have voted for. My aim is to say we oftentimes don’t understand each other, which means we really need to listen and learn from one another. 

None of us can think about racialization in isolation. We need to be in true multi-ethnic community, where we’re sitting around the table, sharing life with brothers and sisters who think differently from us. And when we’re at the table, we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. 

The Bible speaks to both sides of this spectrum. Without question, the Bible speaks to individual responsibility. We’re responsible before God and one another for our actions (Romans 2:6–10). We’re responsible for working hard (Colossians 3:23). At the same time, the same Bible requires us to work hard for justice (Micah 6:8), to correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17)and to defend the rights of those in need (Proverbs 31:8–9). If we’re not willing to sit down at the table with one another, with our Bibles open, listening to and learning from people who are different from us, we will miss this. 

4. ​Love, laying aside your preferences for one another​. 

Think of what Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Looking again at the spectrum I described, on the one hand it is extremely discouraging. But I think there’s another way to look at this picture that’s extremely encouraging. It’s encouraging in the opportunity it represents. 

Think about two individuals, one on each side. A white follower of Christ is on the left side and a black follower of Christ on the right—they think about racialization on totally different terms. It affects so much of how they view the world. Economically, socially, politically they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. But now picture those same two people in the same church, listening to each other, learning from one another, and loving one another in authentic Christian community. That makes no sense to the world—and that is what we want to be as a church. We want to be the kind of church that causes people in our culture to say, “How are those two worshiping together?” 

We’re people who, when we’re in a political discussion, would be on different sides. But when we gather together as the church and throughout the week, we’re sitting next to each other with our Bibles open. This is what unites us—the Word of God. Jesus, the Word made flesh, unites us. Our political views don’t, but our King does. This means we must lay aside our preferences for one another

Racialization doesn’t just happen for historical reasons. There are also contemporary reasons for why churches are divided on racial and ethnic lines. Part of it is because we like being around people who are like us—people who sing songs we like, who do things the way we like to do them. This has been the name of the game in church growth for decades. The way to draw a crowd in a church is to appeal to people’s preferences. It’s almost like we’ve created a reality TV model for church, where people walk away thinking, “Ah, I give that music a six today. The sermon? A four. It just didn’t do it for me.” 

Thinking like this about the church has contributed to division by race in the church to the point where proponents of church growth have actually advocated what’s called the “homogenous unity principle.” This basically says a church can grow the fastest if it focuses on one cultural group. If you want to reach as many people as possible—because people like being around those most like them—then focus on reaching one type of person in this church, and another type of person in another church. The way to grow the church is to appeal to people’s preferences. 

I don’t have time to get into this one biblically today, but suffice it to say, it’s not in the Bible. You never find Paul saying to the Jewish people, “You guys just stick together. You can grow your churches a lot faster by keeping the Gentiles out. And you Gentiles, start your own churches. That’s the best way to go.” No, they’re working hard to come together. They’re sacrificing personal preferences, because the church is not about their preferences. It’s about the display of Christ’s supremacy. His glory shines most clearly when different groups of people come together and He’s the only explanation for why they’re together. That’s what we want to be, McLean Bible Church 

But that’s not easy, I think particularly for my minority brothers and sisters. It’s not surprising, but there’s growing research that shows how most multi-ethnic churches in our country are still dominated by white cultural norms—the music style, the authors referenced by the pastors, and so on. Even in a multi-ethnic church there can still be a sense of disparity. There’s a lot more sacrifice on the part of non-white people. 

I think about African-American members of this church, Asian-American members, and all sorts of ethnicities, who have set aside all kinds of preferences—music, preaching style and other things. I think personally about members of our staff in different ethnicities. I think about Mike and Eric, African-American campus pastors who honestly share with me how they frequently wrestle with investing their leadership here instead of in the church communities that raised them. There are members and pastors in this church who have made great sacrifices to be here, because they’re committed to multi-ethnic community. 

I just want to say from my position, I want to sacrifice more of my preferences. As a white pastor, I need to grow in laying aside my preferences for members of this body, because I want Christ to be exalted through increasing diversity in our leadership and in our membership. On a related note, I do not want to speak from the Bible on issues that are popular among white followers of Christ while staying silent in the Bible on issues that are important to non-white followers of Christ. That’s not faithful pastoring. 

I actually read this week how studies have shown that white church leaders are less likely to speak and act prophetically on race issues, because white church leaders have more to lose when they do. Basically, if you want to draw a crowd in general, stay away from racial issues. If you want to draw a crowd of white people or black people or this type of person or that type of person, then stay away from saying any one of those types of people is part of the problem on racial issues. 

The reality is people mainly want to be comforted when they come to church. As people, we’re naturally drawn to that which brings the most benefit with the least cost. So if you give people a choice between the church of comfort and the church of discomfort—where you need to make sacrifices to change your life—people will choose the church of comfort most every time. Which is why we’ve designed so much of the church culture the way we have today, and it’s why we’re so prone not to talk about issues that are uncomfortable to us. 

I just want us to see the Bible doesn’t give us that option. Amos 5 doesn’t give us that option. We cannot truly worship God while we stay silent on injustice in all kinds of areas. And I know, as a white pastor, I have blind spots. So I am part of the problem. I need friends and fellow pastors around me from different ethnicities to help me see those blind spots. I’m committed to listening, learning, loving and laying aside what contemporary church growth methodologies say is the best way to grow a church, i.e., ignore the issues. I want us to do the exact opposite. I want us to hear God’s Word clearly on these issues, then we can trust Him with the growth of this church. 

5. ​Amos 5:21–24 and how to Leverage your influence for justice in the present​. 

So if we’re going to worship God truly according to Amos 5, then we must leverage our influence for justice in the present. Amos 5:24 states, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” What a great picture. It speaks of gushing torrents of water that overflow and never run dry. That’s what pleases God—when justice isn’t trickling from God’s people, but instead it’s tumbling through dry valleys of injustice all around them. 

My encouragement for each of us is to look at our lives, look at our families and jobs and positions, to see the opportunities and resources we have, asking, “How can I leverage my influence for justice around me?” The true test for us as a church is not how much applause there might be during a sermon like this, but how we live. For me and the other pastors and elders, it’s how we lead this church to leverage our influence for justice. 

I’m not going to try to give a list right now of all kinds of practical ways this might play out in our lives. I was talking to the pastors this week, including Mike and Eric, and we’re going to set up a time in the near future when we get together around the table one night. We’ll host a conversation for whoever wants to take part, helping each other flesh out some of these things in practical ways in our lives. 

But let me tell you that one of the pastors in this city to whom I sent this manuscript—Thabiti Anyabwile—responded to me, saying, “Please make sure to thank McLean for their investments in our neighborhood here in D.C. Many McLean members have volunteered and invested in organizations and efforts here to care for hurting people. McLean Bible Church has a special place in my heart.” So be encouraged by the ways you are leveraging your influence for justice around us. Let’s do it all the more in the days to come. 

I trust we know the history—speaking broadly—that in every area of American racism, white Christians have often been found to be complacent, if not contributing. Think specifically of slavery and civil rights. There’s no question that white churches as a whole—and I would include many of the pastors and theologians I quote from—actively commended, promoted and defended slavery. Slavery is a stain upon that era of church history. Some might call it a scar that’s still healing. 

But in the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham on Good Friday. While he sat in jail, eight white Birmingham pastors criticized him for his methods and called for him to be more patient in promoting civil rights. That’s when he wrote that famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he said: 

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white 

churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” 

Lack of action is a stain and a horror upon that era of church history. So here we sit, 50 or so years later, and I just think we need to ask the question: will history see a stain in us? The Letter from Birmingham Jail later ended with these words: 

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. 

Brothers and sisters, may this not be said of us in our day. May we leverage our influence for justice in the present. 

6. Long for the day when justice will be perfect​. 

My final exhortation is this: we must long for the day when justice will be perfect. There is coming a day when Amos 5:24 will be a reality. Look at the picture of heaven as described in Revelation 22:1–5: 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 

That means all the ethnic groups, all ethnicities of the world. 

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of states sweltering in the heat of injustice and oppression transformed into oases of justice and freedom. He had a dream of a day when rough places would be made plain, crooked place would be made straight, racism would be forever gone and freedom would forever reign. I think it’s clear from all we’ve seen that that dream is not yet fully realized. There’s still work to do—in Washington, our country, all over the world. 

But there is coming a day when every nation, every tribe, every tongue in the human race, every color of person who’s trusted in Christ will gather around His throne, forgiven of all our sins, and we will be free to worship Him in a place of perfect justice and pure righteousness. So let’s live for that day. Let’s work and pray for that day, and let’s long for the day when the glory of God will fully and finally be revealed in the unity of His church. 

Will you pray with me? 

O God, we started by pleading for grace. As we hear and we think about these things, I pray that if there’s anything I’ve said that is not true to Your Word, that You would remove that from people’s minds. I pray that whatever truth has been proclaimed would soak into our hearts, and that You would help each of us—in our different circumstances and different experiences—to see what You’re calling us to do, each of us individually and together as a church, to show Your justice in the world. We don’t want to be found guilty of raising our songs and our hands in worship and then being slow to speak and work for justice and mercy and righteousness around us. Help us to glorify You truly in our worship and in our working. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

How can we apply this passage to our lives?

Question 1

What comes to mind when you hear the word “racism”? How might your answer to this question reveal your own biases?

Question 2

Given how divisive the issue of race is, why can’t the church simply ignore it and preach the gospel? What is the relationship between the gospel and race and other issues of justice?

Question 3

What are some more subtle ways you’ve seen racism in your own community? What about in your own life?

Question 4

What’s wrong with responding to racism simply by claiming that some people need to take more responsibility for their actions?

Question 5

In terms of the issue of race, what are some practical ways you can grow in terms of how you think, speak, and act in ways that are just (as defined by Scripture)? Make a list.

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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