Less than 30% of churches in the United States are actively addressing racism and racial inequality. Although pastors around the country agree that churches should oppose racism, the number of congregations actually trying to tackle the issue is less than desired.
Churches Only ‘Somewhat’ Engaged in Addressing Racism
Recent data from the Barna Group’s pastor panel revealed that 29% of Protestant pastors say their church has been active in addressing racism. Of the 2,350 respondents polled from May 20 – June 15, 11% said it was “completely” true and 18% said it was “mostly” true that they were involved in racial equality reform.
Another 30% of pastors said it was “somewhat” true that they were actively addressing racism. Pastor Albert Tate of Fellowship Monrovia in California said the numbers were surprising.
“I was surprised that many people said that they were somewhat engaged in addressing racism. There’s… propaganda [surrounding this] and people are comforted by voices that convince them that this issue isn’t even real…”
Rev. Nicole Martin of the American Bible Society said the percentages were a shock to him as well.
“My heart grieves for 101 different reasons in this season,” Martin said. “But there is a part of my heart that grieves for the lack of consistency and thorough education for white Christians to see themselves in this context.”
The Difficulty of Discussions About Race
Ninety-four percent of pastors agreed that the church has a responsibility to address racism. Additionally, 89% said it’s important for its leaders to publicly support people of color.
Despite these numbers, many pastors revealed that their churches find it difficult to have these types of conversations. In fact, 62% of pastors reported that different perspectives and theology stifle active involvement in racial issues.
A 2019 Barna study showed that 61% of white practicing Christians believe issues of race are a result of an individual’s own beliefs and prejudices. Conversely, 66% of black practicing Christians believe racism is built into American society and institutions.
This disparity in racial views has made it hard for white pastors to address racism from their pulpits.
“Every Christian would say, community shows up in the Bible and that God cares about community,” Martin said. “And yet… one of the challenges of evangelicalism is this hyper-individualization when it comes to salvation.”
“It’s, ‘I accept Jesus for myself. He saves me from my sins.’ This allows for some people to say, ‘Well, I personally like black people, therefore, [addressing racism] is not my problem.’”
Tate said that all churches must address racism. It requires “all hands on deck” to completely eradicate racial inequality in the streets and in the church.
“We’ve got to tear down this wall. But we can’t tear it down by ourselves,” Tate said. “We need all hands on deck… I need [my white siblings in Christ] to stand with me in opposition so we can fight against it.”
“You’ve got to do what Paul does,” Tate continued. “Paul said, ‘When I was with the Jews, I became like the Jews. When I was with the Gentiles, I became like them. I became those things so that I might win some.'”