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Conversations on Race and the Church: A Call to Action, Part 1


Articles State of the Church 2020 in Faith & Christianity in State of the Church 2020 • June 23, 2020

Over the last few weeks, COVID-related news has fallen to the wayside as stories covering racial injustice and demonstrations in the U.S. have dominated headlines. The current national discussion has highlighted stark contrasts in our nation, government, communities and relationships with friends and even family—and the Church is not exempt from these divides. Data show that church leaders express different levels of confidence and comfort when it comes to addressing racism from the pulpit—for some, for the first time.

In the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman were joined by pastor Albert Tate of Fellowship Monrovia (California) and Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin, Executive Director of Healing and Trauma at American Bible Society. Tate and Martin offer biblical perspectives on racial justice and share advice for pastors who are ready to listen, learn and grow in this season. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here or listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Only 29 Percent of U.S. Churches Have Actively Addressed Racism
Recent data from Barna’s pastor panel show that just a little over a quarter of U.S. Protestant pastors (29%) say that it is completely (11%) or mostly (18%) true that their church has been actively involved in addressing racism or racial inequality in the U.S. Another three in 10 pastors (30%) say this is somewhat true of their church, though this means many churches remain unengaged in this area.

“I was surprised that many people said that they were somewhat engaged in [addressing racism],” Tate says after hearing the data. He continues, “There’s a whole propaganda [surrounding this] and people are comforted by voices that convince them that this issue isn’t even real, let alone someone empathizing in this moment.”

Martin adds, “My heart grieves for 101 different reasons in this season. 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.”

Individual Versus Communal—When Discussions on Race and Theology Mix
Barna data from late 2019 show a stark contrast between white and Black practicing Christians when it comes to questions on race in America. One finding shows that while the majority of white practicing Christians (61%) believes issues of racism are the result of an individual’s own beliefs and prejudices against people of other races, two-thirds of Black practicing Christians (66%) say that racial discrimination is historically built into our society and institutions.

“Every Christian would say, community shows up in the Bible and that God cares about community,” says Martin as she discusses the concept of individual versus communal faith. “And yet, for some reason, 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,’ which then allows for some people to say, ‘Well, I personally like Black people, therefore, [addressing racism] is not my problem.’”

Martin continues, “This hyper-personalization is, I think, a uniquely American thing. This issue of racism is not about whether you like a person of a different color. This is not about whether you have a close Black friend. This is not even about whether you spoke up [against racial injustice] or went to a protest. This is about recognizing what is in the ground of America. It’s about recognizing what has connected us and separated us for more than 400 years. And that, I think, is where we get into a deep theology of individualism versus community, of systems versus individual choices. That’s where we start to shake things up.”

“Use Research and the Numbers to Wake Us Up.”
Part one of this two-part conversation on race and the Church wrapped up with Barna Group president Kinnaman asking Tate and Martin how research can serve the Black Church and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tate responds, “Dr. Martin Luther King once said—and this is not a direct quote—the biggest opposition to this movement and this vision of reconciliation is not the raging racist. … It’s the moderate white Christian who’s indifferent and silent, and I would argue much of the constituency that [Barna Group] serves possibly falls in that demographic.”

“We’ve got to tear down this wall [of racial injustice],” continues Tate, “but we can’t tear it down by ourselves. 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.”

Tate concludes, “Use research and the numbers to wake us up to the [injustice] that’s happening and then give us a vision and hold us accountable to standing in opposition of that [injustice] that’s happening. Once we get there, I feel like we can have a whole new relationship with one another, and we can all fulfill our purpose.”

Barna is committing to offer ongoing research and resources to help churches determine how to respond, including free check-ins to gauge of-the-moment perceptions about race and justice. Through Barna Access, our digital subscription service, we’ll also be curating a series of interviews, tools and reports concerning faith and race.

Read more from Barna president David Kinnaman about how we’ll be listening to and learning alongside the Church.

Comment on this article and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup
Facebook: Barna Group

About the Research

COVID-19 Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among 2,350 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–June 15, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Weeks 12 and 13, n=400, June 4-15, 2020

Featured image by Josh Hild on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2020

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