Evangelical Christian Leaders Grapple With Confronting Racism as Sin

Protesters peacefully gather at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday in Washington to call for action to end racial injustice.

Christians the world over have been united in their revulsion over the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, and faith leaders from across the theological spectrum have spoken out about the lessons they think Christians should draw from the incident.

Many Protestant and Roman Catholic ministers have emphasized a Christian obligation to love one’s neighbor and to work for justice in the earthly world.

Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, raised the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to give aid to a man who had been beaten and left on the side of the road.

“Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted,” Curry said. “Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self.”

In a message to his “dear brothers and sisters in the United States,” Pope Francis advised, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

For evangelical Christian leaders, however, crafting a response to Floyd’s killing is complicated by their view of sin in individual, not societal, terms and their belief in the need for personal salvation above all. Evangelical theologians have long rejected the idea of a “social gospel,” which holds that the kingdom of God should be pursued by making life better here on earth.

Among African American evangelicals, one theologian who has vigorously challenged such views is Darrell Harrison, an ordained Baptist deacon and co-host of the Just Thinking podcast.

“One way to distinguish the biblical gospel from the ‘social gospel,’ ” Harrison tweeted last week, “is that the social gospel preaches structural transformation that works in society from the outside-in, whereas the biblical gospel preaches spiritual transformation that works in society from the inside-out.”

Racism, in Harrison’s view, is often misunderstood. “Biblically, ethnic prejudice is not an ‘ism,’ ” he argued in response to George Floyd’s killing. “It is hate —period. … You end hatred by repenting and believing the gospel.”

Other evangelicals take a more nuanced view of a Christian obligation to work for social justice.

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SOURCE: NPR, Tom Gjelten