Saturday, August 29, 2015

Racism and the Church - a review

Racism and the Church
A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

February 1994

56 pages

Racism is alive and well in the USA and around the world. That, however, is not the focus of this
report. Its focus is “Racism and the Church.” That is to say, what God’s position on Racism is (and therefore what our position as Christians should be), how has it crept into the Church (especially into the LC-MS) and what we can do based on guidance from the Bible.

The preface of this excellent study says:

In April 1986 the officers and staff of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, at the request of the President of the Synod, met with a number of African American pastors in the Synod to discuss issues related to black ministry and to share matters of mutual interest. Following this meeting, the Executive Director of the Commission on Black Ministry expressed appreciation for this opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions and, at the same time, forwarded a request from black leaders in the Synod that a document on racism be prepared. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations responded positively to this request and immediately placed this study on its agenda.

Calling on all of its members “To Combat All Racism,” the Synod at its 1992 convention in Pittsburgh urged “the rapid completion of the CTCR study” and asked the members of the Synod “to make maximum use of this study upon its completion and to pray the Lord of the church to bless this study and cause it to effect appropriate changes in attitudes and actions.” The Commission on Theology and Church Relations joins in the prayer that this document on Racism and the Church will be a blessing to the Synod, assisting us all not only in understanding the problem of racism, but also, with God’s help, in dealing with it in our own personal and corporate life. For those who wish to explore in more detail what the Scriptures teach regarding racism and its consequences, a Bible study has been included with this report (pp. 45-56).

In light of what we hear so often in the news, the need for this report has not diminished in the two decades since it was published. You may be thinking, but we aren’t a racist denomination. Consider this one fact. If our membership gains in the black community had kept pace with our membership gains in the white community, then we would have over a quarter million black members in the LC-MS right now. Instead, black membership is somewhere around 20,000. Why? Racism doesn’t express itself only by taking a gun into a church with membership different from you.

If you are not a member of the LC-MS, this report is still an excellent read. The theological/biblical insights will serve Christians of any denomination well. The Bible study at the end is also excellent, but would certainly take more than one meeting. I give this report “two humble thumbs up.”

(Oh, the footnotes are excellent.)

If you would like to read the report, follow this link: Racism and the Church

Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert


  1. Racism works both ways. Sometimes African Americans hold anti-white views, influenced in part by race baiting leaders in their own community. It is not true or accurate to imply racism is a white attitude towards black people. I have worked for African Americans in the Marine Corps, when I was a Sgt, and I have been working side by side blacks all of my life. Some were supervisors and some were co-workers or subordinates. I think I can get along with most people, regardless of skin color or ethnic group.But let's look at race relations in an honest way.....and not fall into the trap of blaming the white man...I am sick of that fake and largely erroneous premise. From personal experience in certain jobs, and even in college, I found that many times people who are not bigoted by nature still like to congregate with those they feel most comfortable in the college cafeteria you have the table of Hispanics eating together, the Chinese students in one corner, the blacks at their table. Yes, the white jocks have their table, the white nerds theirs, and the girls have their own little clicks.
    In church, none in my experience shunned blacks. But many black Americans do not gravitate to the liturgical Lutheran body so much as to the lively Pentecostals or Baptist congregations.....their choice.....not racism, or if they worship in a black community...they will be among mostly blacks.....demographics....not racism. Why don't we stop wringing our hands and laying on white guilt over alleged racism in the LCMS?

    1. I can tell from your comment, John, that you have not read the report. I suggest you do so instead of per-judging it.

    2. It is too easy to conclude, as you note, that "membership gains" in the black community did not keep up with white membership in the LCMS, and therefore the cause is racism. Many black Christians, as well as many whites, simply do not agree with the reformed faith or the Lutheran distinctives, and so they join the churches they like. I do not think you have thought this through but I hate to tell you this.....not everyone wants to be a Lutheran. Some are happy worshiping in other churches. I am in the LCMS, but I have met other Christians who do not agree with us, or our view of scripture.

    3. Hello John. As I read you comment, I still can't help but feel you have not read the document. You can download it by using the link in my little review. Once you have read it, then you will be in a much better position to make on-target comments.

    4. I read the document. I have read similar theses about racism and culture, primarily from the viewpoint of secular anthropologists. This one is geared toward a Lutheran perspective. Many of the social theories are reworked from contemporary thinking on the subject....however....I still hold to my original comments....which are based on experience and largely anecdotal. I have interacted with many ethnic groups in my life, and seen prejudice and bigotry manifested, but it seems many anthropologists are hung up on the white European as the primary bigot.

    5. Well, if you recall, the document recognized that racism does occur in both direction. I appreciated the first commandment accent, something anthropologists don't recognize. I also appreciated the documents analysis of racism between the Jews and Gentiles in the NT Church. I have some anecdotal experience as well, not all as positive as yours. I remember talking to an LC-MS man back in the 90s, who recalled the church closing the doors and not admitting blacks in the early 70s. Granted, the church had other problems, but the members certainly only wanted their kind of people to attend. My current church, that has a number of black members, is more the exception then the rule. The question I wonder about, isn't so much if a black person, or a Hispanic person, or a whatever person, would be welcome today, but do we even invite them? One quote I appreciated can be found on page 38, "the unity of the church transcends every race and culture and is to be
      manifested in the full acceptance and inclusion of all peoples. There is no “Anglo-Caucasian,” no“African-American,” no “Hispanic-American,” no Vietnamese-American,” or other “hyphenated” citizen in the sight of God, as if to imply that some are more worthy than others to join the company of those who call on his name. We must quickly add that to affirm a particular race and culture does not imply separatism. Rather, such affirmation is a way of identifying those persons whom the Lord has given to his church, together with their special gifts, for the benefit of all"

  2. I suppose we could go "round for round" on this issue, but rather than continue I will make a parting comment, read your final thoughts, and let this topic go. First, the racism between the Jews and Gentiles was prompted by God's commands in the Mosaic laws to avoid mingling with the adjoining tribes, some of which were Baal worshipers, practiced pagan rituals, including sexual immorality, and worse of all, sacrificed their infant children in acts of infanticide. In mingling with outside Gentile societies, and in intermarriage, we read how the Jews compromised their faithfulness to God, practiced pagan rites themselves, and usually fell under judgement. Now when Jesus spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan, it must have shocked some listeners because the Mosaic tradition which they believed came through God Himself admonished them for assimilating with Gentile cultures. Secondly, although racism occurred in America and slavery is a painful legacy, we have gone beyond it for the most part, but somehow it cannot be put to rest. The recent murder in Houston of a white policeman shot 15 times by a Black man showed many of us that racism has been exasperated by race baiting leaders and the frame of mind today suggests it will get worse...our police being targets, especially white cops. Lastly, there is still Hispanic American, African American, Anglo American. You are what you are, and saying one is an American is not enough. I am an Irish/German American, not an Afghan American or a Latino. I still have a nationality and a hyphenated description. But most of all, I am a Christian, and in this I am first.

  3. Well, John, I am certainly happy that you are a Christian first. Notice that the "hyphenated" reference was in the sight of God. We are all descended from Adam. The quote also said "We must quickly add that to affirm a particular race and culture does not imply separatism. Rather, such affirmation is a way of identifying those persons whom the Lord has given to his church, together with their special gifts, for the benefit of all." I notice that you haven't quoted the report to point to the things to which you object (other than allude to my quotes). You seem to be responding to many things that are not in the report. Has it been so long ago that you read it (it has been out 20 years), that you really don't recall much of it? The report doesn't say the Jews didn't have a long history of racial isolation. Nor does it seek to justify the practices of the OT Canaanite people. Nor does it seek to state that the OT regulations were simply something man-made. Just the opposite. What it does say is that this raised barriers in the NT Church, barriers that had been brought down by Jesus, and that it took some major efforts to bring them down in practice. One of the goals of these reports is to stimulate conversation so, no matter how long ago it might have been that you read the report, it is achieving that purpose. Again, brother, I'm very happy you Christian before all else.