Full Transcript of Episode 11: Pastor Views on Racial Reconciliation
Lizette: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider in to the research providing insight into today’s church and culture.
[00:42] Hello. Here we are again. I’m Lizette Beard, here with my colleagues Scott McConnell and Casey Oliver. Today we are talking about pastor views and feedback on racial reconciliation.
[00:57] Because this has been a little bit of a key topic in news and cultural conversations, I’m not going to come up with a really clever, out of nowhere question that you guys have to answer on the spot. I saw nowhere that that could go.
Scott McConnell: [01:15] For the listeners, just see the disappointment on Casey and my faces right now.
Lizette: [01:20] I know, because they love bracing themselves for that. Again, I feel like I ask this question a lot. Scott, why are you stirring things up? Why are we asking pastors about this when…?
Scott: [01:38] We live in a world that’s stirred up. There are a lot of discussions that are going on. What puts them in the conversation today is that we don’t all agree. I think, in the church, we’ve got to be aware of those conversations. We have to be, in many cases, involved in those conversations and imparting truth inside those conversations.
Lizette: [02:07] One of the things I’ve noticed about the conversations that, whether I’m watching it on the news or I’m watching different pieces of feedback on social media. There’s varying levels or senses of people sensing the need to be talking about this.
[02:28] For listeners who may be in a place where they feel fine and they don’t want it shoved in their face anymore, why are we shoving it in their face more?
Scott: [02:41] That’s a good question. I think each of us have gone through seasons in our life where it’s been a while since we’ve personally have seen racist acts right in front of us. We may have gone through a season where we say, “I don’t feel like I’ve shown any favoritism. Should I be apologizing for something my ancestors have done? What is left to do?”
[03:10] For those in the majority culture, that’s an easy reaction to have. I think it’s pretty shortsighted. It’s something that reinforces the fact that we’re in the majority culture. That we are not sensing that there is still a need to make progress in this area.
[03:31] I’m thankful that every year it seems like there’s good movies coming out that show how far we’ve come since before my time, in the ’60s and even before the civil rights movement. We see the contrast of how far we’ve come. We definitely want to be celebrating that.
[03:50] At the same time, if we look at the scriptural standard, if we look in Acts 17, are we being one, especially within the church? Are we being one? The fact is, we’re still segregated in many ways. It’s not antagonistic most of the time, but we’re not actually working together on very many things.
Casey: [04:17] Scott talked about Acts 17. Actually, our bible study that we have our college students over at our house for was actually on Acts 6 last week. I thought that spoke to a lot of these issues with the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews. Hellenistic Jews saying that they weren’t being taken care of and having their needs provided for.
[04:41] The intentional action that the 12 took, adding leadership positions for that group that had a potential to be marginalized and making sure their needs were provided for. The follow up of that was the Word of God continued to spread.
[05:01] As you read it, you’re aware that this was actually an issue that had the potential to harm their witness of the church in the same way that Ananias and Sapphira did the chapter before. To me, that’s what stands out, saying this is a really important issue that we need to address. It’s part of what could harm the witness of the church if we’re not doing it right.
Lizette: [05:28] Looking at this, looking over the questions, I had a picture in my mind. If you’ve ever seen the concentric circles of our relationships. We all have a limited number of very close relationships. Immediate family, very close friends. Then you move out to good friends, some colleagues.
[05:52] Then it scoots out to close church relationships, that kind of thing. Then it moves out to acquaintances, very mild acquaintances, casual acknowledgment of others. There’s only so much room for most folks.
[06:12] Casey, you mentioned the word “intentional.” I’m very struck by the idea of to be intentional, to bring someone in, closer into the circle. There’s that sense of are you pushing someone out? I don’t know. For me, the visual of those circles and the relationships may be where some of these pastors are.
[06:41] The ethnic diversity in their environment may dictate part of their concentric circle. For me, it’s a good visual to weigh the different balances of how people responded. What stood out to you guys in the relationships or in the connections you were seeing with pastors?
Casey: [07:09] To speak to those concentric circles or broadening out circles, we asked a few questions that were in that space of how broad is your social circle. How diverse is your social circle?
[07:20] One of those questions was, “When was the last time you had a meal with less than 10 people that included someone of another race?” I think, to some extent, we saw some positive feedback there where 44 percent said they had that in the last week and 73 percent in the last month.
[07:40] Like Lizette was saying, we’re aware that sometimes those social circles for who you’re having a meal with…a lot of times that might just be your family and then once a week, or once a month, you have something beyond that.
[07:53] To understand that that’s something to affirm and celebrate is that a lot of pastors are saying that they are having conversations with people of diverse backgrounds or ethnicities.
Lizette: [08:08] Scott, talk to me a little bit about the choice of using 10 people as the marker. That sounds to me like it’s landing at the place of a small group. It could be your bible study group, friends.
[08:28] It’s not so close that you’re talking about the intimate family dinner. Maybe an in house, in home dinner party. Why 10 as the marker of a gathering?
Scott: [08:40] We drew the line at 10 because that would allow you to include one-on-one lunches you might have with somebody but also if your family gets together with another family. The 10 would also exclude gatherings where it may be a group at church.
[08:59] It may be a group from the community where there happens to be somebody from another race there but that wasn’t part of the intention or the main part of who was gathering.
Lizette: [09:14] Just as you were mentioning that, it occurred to me that pastors may have an opportunity, in some situations, if their congregation already has a significant amount of diversity, or their community is diverse, or they already have diversity in their staff or leadership.
[09:38] The challenge is if those things are not in place. The professionals in their church may be working with a very diverse group, whatever the vocation is. There may be those opportunities for work conversations, meetings, lunches, and gaining familiarity.
[09:59] Whereas if the church is isolated and the pastor is not able…I say not able. The pastor, to do this, must be much more intentional in seeking those out. It occurred to me that it’s not going to be those casual work lunch opportunities that pop up. Casey, you look like you’re itching to say something.
Casey: [10:25] Yeah. As you were saying, for some people maybe you naturally have a broader or more diverse circle. For other people, it takes a lot of effort. You have to make an intentional choice to make that happen.
[10:42] I found that question interesting, about how broad is your circle, because we’ve discussed that question not necessarily in relation to race but more generally a lot on this podcast, of having a varied perspective and how that helps us to lead well and make good decisions.
[10:59] We know that those perspectives can vary widely among and between different racial and ethnic groups. That’s one of the reasons why whenever we’re doing a survey we always ask the respondents’ ethnicity.
[11:13] It’s because we often see some really interesting differences in the prevalent values and opinions among different ethnicities. I think that makes a meaningful question to say, “Are pastors hearing from people who have varied perspectives with regard to race?”
Scott: [11:31] The fact that different racial and ethnic groups respond differently to our survey questions obviously reflects that they may have different experiences and different perspectives in their communities but even those are God given.
[11:49] Looking at my notes, I think I mentioned Acts 17 earlier. The verse about being completely one is in John 17, but in Acts 17 we read that from one man He, God, has made every nation of men to live all over the Earth and had determined their appointed times and the boundaries where they live.
[12:10] Those differences, those boundaries that make us a little different from each other are God given. And so, we should be celebrating some of those differences, and seeking to understand each other, and listening to those perspectives more so than say that’s an excuse not to get together or not to work together.
Casey: [12:43] In addition to how broad is their circle type of questions, we also had some questions about the receptivity of congregations to preaching on racial reconciliation. One of those questions, we found that 7 out of 10 pastors have not had leaders in their church urge them to preach about racial reconciliation.
[13:02] 9 out of 10 pastors said that their congregations would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation. I guess the report of feedback not necessarily being that church leaders are saying, “Yeah, you’ve got to go do this,” but that they’re at least open to hearing about racial reconciliation from the pulpit.
Scott: [13:22] In the last three months about half that many, 45 percent of pastors, have actually preached on racial reconciliation. I think there’s a lot of ways to reinforce the fact that we’re all equal before God in many sermons, but to actually focus a sermon on racial reconciliation and seeking to be peacemakers, I think, takes some intentionality.
Casey: [13:46] I think another piece, as I thought through this, we asked a lot of questions, sort of, “In the last three months, have you taken some of these intentional steps?” Being aware of the context of that, there were those three separate incidents. The Alton Sterling one, the Filando Castile one, and then the Dallas police shooting that all had race as a prominent part in the stories.
[14:14] I think they exposed some strong racial divides in the way that people reacted to those stories, as well. Pastors were taking this survey within two months of all of that, where you had that heightened sense of some racial tensions.
[14:29] You’d hope that, for some people, that would be…it seemed like that would be a moment. This is a time to lament some of those divides. This is a time for corporate prayer, for healing those divides.
Lizette: [14:51] Not to take anything away from…maybe I should rephrase that. Absolutely, I would like to encourage the intentional actions, addressing it corporately, preaching. At no point am I saying that should be set aside. I do think it’s important for pastors and leaders to be modeling it in conversation so they can…
[15:19] In their own lives, I would encourage more of the one on one meals or getting your families together so that you can bump up against what those differences are because that’s when you learn, “Oh, my assumptions. I was assuming something that I had wrong. I was going by just what I saw on TV. Now I’m hearing it from someone.”
[15:44] I’m going to launch into a story. I’m hoping we don’t have to stop and cut it. Houphouët‑Boigny, is the name of the…he’s a past president in Côte d’Ivoire. One of the things that he did, he was president forever.
[16:04] Not always the greatest in managing the finances of the country but one of the things that he was known for, to handle the divides and tensions between the different language groups, people groups in the country is as university students graduated he implemented a program to where if you were in the southern region you would automatically get assigned to the northern region.
[16:39] People would be placed outside of [their local areas]…in technology, in education, in medicine. The intentional idea is it’s harder to fight with a neighboring group when you know your brother or your cousin is having meals with them. To me, that’s always stood out as a lesson for…It’s hard to get mad at a group in general when you’ve had those meals.
[17:15] You know there’s more than what you’re seeing on TV. There’s more than what someone’s trying to paint the picture. It’s also more than just the negative, but also it’s more and richer than just the fluffy cloud ideal of holding hands and skipping along.
[17:36] The real relationship in that push and shove. I’m not saying physically push and shove at those meals. That would not facilitate. When you do get the push back or you do recognize, “Ugh, that’s not it.” Or you can clarify for the other person that is so much richer than imagining or keeping everything bottled up and pretending everything’s OK.
Scott: [18:03] I think those organized efforts, obviously, have been very helpful for a couple generations. For our generation, we’ve reached a point where we’re rejecting the forced integration, but we’ve got to follow that with voluntary integration.
[18:23] We have to personally say, “How can I be a peacemaker? How can I help race relations in my own life as well as in my own community?” A lot of what we’ve talked about today is very relational. Who am I meeting with? Who are my friends? Who am I reaching out to?
[18:43] Part of it is the humility to say, “I’m willing to do that.” Even though some of the transgressions may be so far back in my family history I don’t know the details, I’m going to be humble about it and say that I need to be part of the solution.
[19:03] One other thing that’s important in the discussion is that much of the racism that still exists in our country is inequalities that are still within the system. Those of us in the majority culture often don’t notice those because they don’t hurt us. We have to listen for those. We have to look for those so that we can be helping to rectify those injustices.
Lizette: [19:38] Thanks guys. Any other highlights before we wrap up? Any other insights?
Casey: [19:43] I don’t have anything.
Lizette: [19:45] We want to thank everyone for listening to Keep Asking, our LifeWay research podcast. If you liked what you just heard or if you want to argue with us we hope you’ll email us at email@example.com. You can also go to iTunes and rate and review us there.
[20:05] Be sure to tweet your questions and comments to use @lifewayresearch and individually at @smcconn, @statsguycasey, and @lizettebeard. Join us next time for another edition of Keep Asking. Keep asking, learn more, do better.
While there are many helpful resources out there for this discussion, one in particular we would like to bring to your attention is the writing, speaking and influence of Dr. Carl Ellis Jr. He has been a tremendous asset to LifeWay Research on previous projects. We encourage you to check out his blog, his website with his equally gifted and amazing wife Karen.
- Ellis Perspectives
- Prophets of Culture: Cultural analysis from a theological perspective (blog)
- Free at Last? The Gospel in the African-American Experience