I got a DM last year that broke my heart. It was a DM from a student I’d pastored previously.
She was scared. Scared of her pastors, who’d been saying racist things from the pulpit.
She was black. She felt called to pastoral ministry. She asked me, “Linga does it get better?”
I didn’t know how to answer.
I need to begin by saying that I’m grateful to be in ministry. I love being part of necessary kingdom work— serving, sharing the Gospel, and seeing lives transformed.
It’s been my greatest honor to partner with God to build His church. And yet my great joy is coupled with a painful tragedy.
EVERY single season I’ve had in ministry, has a common thread— Racism.
There isn’t a season I’ve had in ministry that I didn’t also experience racism.
Racism isn't just an external problem- it’s inside the church as well.
Sometimes it was people that didn’t know God, who were THANKFULLY in church, where they needed to be. I would pray for God to grab ahold of their hearts, and bring conviction of sin in this area and every area.
Many times it was my peers in ministry—a much more painful thing to experience because I knew them and they knew me.
It was peers making fun of the darkness of my skin, or questioning my citizenship, or criticizing my hair and nails. It was the weaponization of assumptions and stereotypes used to paint me as ghetto. It was the jokes about my “not normal” name. It was the unconditional endorsement of people and policies centered around hurting people that look like me with no attempt to think objectively. It was non-black peers using the N-word and so much more.
Our relationship created the space for tough conversations to happen but almost always these were conversations about ‘offense’ rather than accountability or ownership, let alone repentance.
But more often than anyone should be okay with, it was my leaders and pastors.
I’ll preface my coming statements with this:
Honor is something I’m biblically instructed to do. I’m committed to honoring pastors and leaders who have surrendered their entire lives to the cause of Christ- that Jesus would encounter people in local communities.
Yet, I’ve learned firsthand that some (unhealthy) ministries have substituted biblical honor, that’s rooted in humility, servanthood, holiness, and righteousness, for a false ‘honor’ that protects abusers in their pulpits and demonizes those who they have victimized.
Time after time as I have continued to pursue my calling in the world of vocational ministry, racism has persisted and been protected by the people who should’ve been standing against it.
In the summer of 2020 I heard hundreds of sermons from Pastors who were speaking to the state of the world; America in particular. In the face of the terrible injustice that George Floyd fell victim to, and the many racial injustices he represents, people were angry- justifiably. This anger turned into both peaceful protests and riots. And these pastors had only one response. “This rioting is unamerican. It isn’t the way. Burning and looting accomplishes nothing.”
Sermon over. That was it.
That was the response of a majority of pastors and leaders to perhaps the most universal face-to-face people have had with racism in this modern day.
Why was the world louder about racism than the Church?
Why didn’t the Church offer a solution?
Why didn’t the Church organize peaceful protests?
Why didn’t the Church call DA’s and legislators asking for justice?
Why didn’t the Church offer an alternative way to respond and set the standard?
Instead many churches only spoke up about the reactions to the issue rather than saying something about the issue itself.
Why is that? Because racism has such a comfortable place in church environments people feel threatened when it is mentioned. Many are reading this blog ready to pounce.
I was told by a leader of mine once, that if we spoke about racism, we would be taking our eyes off of Jesus and not keeping "the main thing, the main thing".
The problem? By that logic we haven’t kept "the main thing the main thing"… ever.
In the American Church, Sunday after Sunday we’ve been speaking about COVID-19 (at that time it was about how it was government oppression to mandate masks and now that has extended to vaccination discussions), we’ve speaking about abortion, we’ve been speaking about homosexual marriage, and just about every other white evangelical’s political hot ticket issue.
And when these subjects are discussed, they are never described as “taking our eyes off of Jesus” they are described as biblical truth and living according to the standard God has asked us to live by.
Since when was racism a part of that standard?
In fact, these subjects are so intertwined into the subject-matter in the American Church, that many pastors give entire messages about how voting for someone who supports abortion or gay marriage, or vaccine mandates is voting for sin.
What of voting for a racist?
Many leaders look at addressing racial injustice in the Church environment as something that will alienate old white people. It is so concerning to me how many believe this. How can one so passionately hold this perspective and be unable to see the contrast?
If the alienation of old white people is the result of addressing racism, not addressing racism has a converse effect-- the alienation of people of color. Neither is the heart of God.
“Well we should just give grace”
I am an eternally grateful recipient of the free gift of grace- and it is my delight to do the same- and yet I cannot be negligent in the face of abuse. Willful, unrepentant racism is abuse. I can be completely forgiven, washed clean from my crimson red sin in the eyes of the kingdom of Heaven, and still have to serve a jail sentence here on Earth if I have committed a crime.
Grace is not the absence of accountability.
I cannot stand by and allow anyone to perpetuate trauma unrepentantly.
If in one’s racism there is an unwillingness to repent and to learn, allowing that individual’s racism to continue to occur is negligent to others in the environment, and is particularly dishonoring to the victims of that individual's ignorance. It is a violation of God’s standard.
In many of the situations I experienced, I was expected to give honor, while the people above me who had the relational equity for correction, accountability, and education said nothing and did nothing to protect me or the others who looked like me.
Imagine my surprise when I sat in the building of a Church movement I loved dearly, and was told that I “probably wouldn’t be able to launch any ministry there unless I apologized” to the people who had been racist to me.
As I drove home that day, the admiration I'd once held for an environment that helped me grow in Christ shattered.
“Is this the same place? Is this the right place to be? Should I be somewhere where I can fall victim to life-altering racism and then be asked to apologize to the people who did it for the sake of bureaucracy?”
Then I made one final, discouraging observation.
The perpetrators were not being advised to apologize in order to continue doing ministry— just me!
I now sit in a tension- the problem exists. It’s more prevalent than people are willing to admit. It’s affected my life directly.
But, what do we do about it?
The answer is not to attack the Church.
The Church is the bride of Christ, and Jesus is coming back for his bride. His pure bride.
I don’t want to condemn the Church, I want to call us higher.
I won’t submit to abuse or allow it where I see it.
I won’t allow my brothers and sisters in Christ to go to church afraid and uncomfortable every Sunday.
Something has to break.
Not everything about racism is complicated and political. Some things are basic and clear:
Racism is wrong at any and every level overt or covert.
Good police who serve and protect communities and de-escalate are not a problem, in fact they are a gift.
Police who abuse their power, take advantage of people, make assumptions based on racial biases, murder unarmed people in the street--especially for minor alleged offenses, or who protect their peers who do wrong instead of standing for justice and accountability, should not be police and justice should be served legally in every instance that it can be.
Alleged criminality should not be a death sentence in the street.
Systems that have built racism and discrimination into the way people are treated and the outcomes they experience are broken and need to be abolished and rewritten.
I'm praying for the day when the body of Christ recognizes that concerning racial injustice, true unity is the fruit of acknowledgement, accountability, repentance and forgiveness.
If you're still minimizing or questioning what POC have been experiencing, you don’t really want unity.
If you don’t want justice (legally) to take place in instances of injustice, you don’t really want unity.
If you don’t want to learn from your own mistakes and unlearn your biases, you don’t really want unity.
If you don’t want to forgive people who have made mistakes when it comes to this issue but have repented, are learning, and WANT to do better, we can’t really have unity.
There are some who say that injustice will never go away. That may be true. But it will go away from me. Where I am able to affect it, I will. Imagine what could shift if everyone had this perspective!
The most hurtful instances of racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime weren’t perpetrated by angry strangers at Walmart.
It was my ministry friends. It was my mentors. It was my pastors.