10 Data-Driven Resources to Help Pastors Lead on Martin Luther King Jr. Day
In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, taking place this year on January 20, Barna wanted to offer a list of resources for pastors and ministry leaders to access in preparation for sermons, programs and community events surrounding the historic significance of this day. MLK Day provides a crucial opportunity for Christians to be ministers of healing and justice, and we hope the years’ worth of Barna research offered below may be helpful as you and your ministry continue to understand the context of the conversations surrounding racism, social justice and reconciliation taking place around the country and within the Church.
Barna asked respondents whether they agree the history of slavery in the U.S. still has a significant impact on black Americans today. Half of practicing Christians (50%) “mostly or totally” acknowledge ongoing repercussions, slightly ahead of the proportion of the general population who feel this way (46%). Just over a quarter of practicing Christians (28%) says the U.S. has moved past this shameful part of its history, also on par with the national average (28%).
How should the Church respond in light of our nation’s 400-year history of injustices against black people? Though responses were fairly distributed, and multiple responses were allowed, 28 percent of practicing Christians say “there’s nothing the Church should do.” A full third of white practicing Christians (33%) selects this option, double the percentage of black practicing Christians who feel this way (15%). Instead, the plurality of black respondents (33%) has a clear next step in mind: repairing the damage.
A large majority of American adults says the amount of hate crime and hate speech (meaning, speech or crimes that are motivated by racial, sexual or other prejudice) has changed in the past five years; seven in 10 (70%) say this behavior has increased. Most attribute the change to the fact that politicians are encouraging or feeding this trend (65%). Similar majorities say social media and the internet have amplified it (62%) or that it is driven by America becoming increasingly more divided as a country (61%). More than half say the internet has provided a forum for hate groups to multiply (57%), that hate crime has increased because the news has drawn attention to it (54%) or even that it has become more socially acceptable to publicly treat others with prejudice (51%). Four in 10 believe increased diversity in America has caused fear or prejudice (37%). Only a few respondents say religious organizations amplify hatred (16%).
David M. Bailey is the founder and executive director of Arrabon, a ministry that equips churches and organizations to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with cultural intelligence. He is an active speaker, consultant and strategist for many national organizations. In an interview with Barna for 2017’s The State of Pastors project, Bailey offers wisdom about acknowledging cultural blind spots in ministry.
Why do lingering divisions exist in the Church, the very communities built on the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation? Finding racial unity in a congregation is a complex task that requires a deep recognition of racial differences in how Christians understand and express their faith. Here, Barna examines the divergent ways in which black and white Christians approach discipleship, individually and collectively.
In 2017, Latasha Morrison, a bridge-builder, reconciler, fellow abolitionist and compelling voice in the fight for racial justice, sat down with Mark Matlock to talk about her book, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. When asked about the Church’s role in racial reconciliation, Latasha notes, “I think the Church is supposed to be a place of healing and a distinctive and transformative voice in this conversation, but instead, as the Church, we’re seeing that we’re actually a part of the problem—we’re bringing chaos, turmoil and hurt into a lot of the conversations, versus healing and restoration. I think a lot of this is because we have centered the conversation on politics versus the message of Jesus, the gospel…. We need to start [the conversation] with Jesus and end with Jesus.”
In 2016, as Black Lives Matter gained momentum, a Barna study showed the movement was met with a mixed response. Millennials were most likely to support the message of Black Lives Matter (45%), but this support decreased with age (24% among Gen X, 20% among Boomers and 15% among Elders). The outliers were evangelicals and Republicans (especially compared to Democrats), both of which were significantly less likely than the general population to support the movement (13% of evangelicals and 7% of Republicans compared to 27% of all adults).
Also in 2016, Barna found that a slim majority of Americans agreed that police unfairly target people of color and other minority groups. More than half of all adults (53%) either somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement. Barna also asked about individual experience—whether respondents personally live in fear of police brutality. Most (78%) said they either probably or definitely do not live in fear of police brutality. The deepest divides though—for both questions—exist along lines of generation, ethnicity and religion.
On September 10, 2019, The Connected Generation project launched with the Faith for the Future webcast, a live, free event where leaders from Barna and World Vision revealed main findings—some sobering, some hopeful—uncovered by this global study. The team was joined by panels of experts and ministers as well as viewers from 88 countries and six continents. One of the key findings from this study uncovered the connected generation’s concern about issues such as racism and inequality, and offered insights on how the pursuit of justice factors into their identity and spirituality.
This special report assesses the nation’s reputation of racism, past and present. Through articles, infographics and commentary, Where Do We Go from Here? is intended to bring context to important conversations and contribute to a broader understanding of race relations in our present moment.
Feature image by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash