Recent Barna data show that only 29 percent of U.S. Protestant pastors say their church is actively involved in addressing racism or racial inequality. Last week’s ChurchPulse Weekly episode found hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman beginning a conversation about race and the Church with podcast guests Albert Tate, lead pastor of Fellowship Monrovia (California), and Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin, Executive Director of Healing and Trauma at American Bible Society.
On the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Kinnaman, Nieuwhof, Tate and Martin continue the discussion on racial justice and the Church. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here or listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts.
Nearly All Pastors Believe That the Church Has a Responsibility to Publicly Denounce Racial Discrimination
Recent data (June 4-15, 2020) show that just three out of five pastors (62%) said their church made a statement on the recent protest happening across the nation; while this is an encouraging majority, nearly all pastors (94%) agree the Church has a responsibility to publicly denounce racial discrimination. A similar portion (89%) says that it is important for church leaders to publicly show support for people of color. If this is the case, what is keeping some pastors from speaking out against racial injustice?
Martin offers her thoughts on the difficult but necessary task ahead of pastors in this moment, saying, “I think now is the time, when we [as pastors] really need to reconsider the cost of what it means to take up our crosses and follow Christ. The only one who is appointed to take up the cross [in the Bible] was Simon of Cyrene, Simon the African. … Africans and people of color have carried the cross in more ways than we could possibly imagine, because we’ve always had, in some people’s views, little to lose.”
She continues, “I think this issue [of racial justice] is going to force pastors and leaders to ask, ‘What am I afraid of? What cost am I willing to pay for the gospel?’ … [The Bible says] whenever I take up the cross, whatever I lose for the gospel, I gain even more in Christ … There’s no cost that’s too much to pay for the gospel.”
“Silence also costs us,” adds Tate, following Martin’s statement. “You scream to us [about] our lack of worth, our lack of value, while you scramble and hustle to get us on the worship teams, or to get us to show up so we can make your flyer and [make you look] more multiethnic than you authentically are.”
“We are worried about our sons being killed, we are experiencing racial macro- and microaggressions,” says Tate. “The brittleness and lack of courage [of our white peers] in moments like these makes it really hard to stand, and hug and sing kumbaya in our prayer meetings because we know that in the moments that matter the most, what we hear is a deafening silence when it comes to your courage and your activism and your willingness to take a strong stance that may cost you.”
Over Half of Pastors Strongly Agree Church Leadership Should Guide Their Congregation to Think on Racial Justice
Ninety-three percent of U.S. Protestant pastors agree—57 percent strongly so—that it is important for church leaderships to guide their people in thinking about racial justice. It seems that certainty wanes, however, when politics come into play. Only one in five pastors (22%) strongly disagrees that the Church should not be involved in movement for political change. Another 40 percent disagree to a lesser extent (20% mostly, 20% somewhat).
Three in five pastors (61%) agree that conversations about race are too political (26% strongly agree, 16%, mostly agree, 19% somewhat agree), a thought that perhaps contributes to reluctance to address racism in church.
Speaking on fears, Martin encourages, “If God is big enough to handle all of these things, then what fear is not an authentic one that you can’t bring to Christ and say, ‘I’m afraid of that right there.’”
“You’ve got to do what Paul does,” says Tate, offering advice for pastors who are searching for a way to talk to congregants about fighting injustice, even when navigating the landmines of politics. “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.’”
Tate concludes, “I’ve learned to be able to do [what Paul did], and still authentically show who I am, but all while being acutely aware of who my audience is. Therefore, we [as pastors] need to position ourselves accordingly, not changing who we are, but showing up in a way so that [our people] might hear us effectively.”
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.
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
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
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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