Even after a year of increased conversations around race in the United States, Black History Month still offers leaders a unique chance to refocus on learning from the lived experiences of their Black brothers and sisters in America, as well as from Black Church traditions.
In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, host Carey Nieuwhof speaks with guest Bryan Loritts, pastor, author and founder of the Kainos Movement. Together, the two discuss what it looks like to build loving relationships across racial divides, to lead amidst pushback and to discern environments best fit for these conversations.
On the Central Role of Faith in the Black Experience
One theme that has emerged across years of Barna research is the crucial role faith plays in the everyday lives of Black Americans. Brooke Hempell, Barna’s Senior Vice President of Research, joined Nieuwhof briefly to share research from Barna’s latest study on the State of the Black Church. Data show that, as of 2020, over three-quarters of Black adults (79%) agree that to understand the African American experience, it is necessary to understand the role of religious faith in the lives of Black people.
Loritts agrees that this data lines up with his own personal experience, adding, “When you are in a situation where, historically, there’s been a motif of struggle and oppression, Christianity doesn’t just become something nice for you. It becomes something necessary.”
On Discerning Appropriate Environments for Conversations on Race
Leaders must constantly discern the most appropriate environments for conversations on hard topics such as race in the U.S. Loritts offers listeners advice and encouragement on talking about divisive topics, even quoting some advice he received from North Point Ministries pastor Andy Stanley, adding, “There’s some things I’ll only talk about in circles, not in rows.”
Loritts acknowledges the difficulty of pursuing racial reconciliation, noting, “If you’re going to engage in this work, you’re going to take a lot of hits.” Still, he views his role as a pastor as one of shepherding and meeting people where they are. Loritts has learned to reframe pushback when talking about race as an opportunity to draw people closer, invite them to a face-to-face conversation and walk alongside them in their own journey towards racial reconciliation.
In this way, he demonstrates the importance of leaders modeling this posture of care, adding, “I can’t take people to a place I’m not venturing towards myself. I can’t truly preach reconciliation and be bitter towards white people at the same time.”
On Naming, Not Normalizing
Despite the changes that are needed to broader systems in America, Loritts still holds out hope for white Evangelicals. He notes, “We desperately need white Evangelicals. Evangelical is a good word. It literally means good news, and it’s the idea of the Gospel. I want to hold onto that, but I argue that while we need white Evangelicals, we don’t need white Evangelicalism.”
For him, the greater issue to examine is the normalization of whiteness in everyday spheres of life. Looking back on his own seminary experience, he reflects, “In my almost seven years of Bible college and seminary, I never was asked to read a person of color.”
Loritts adds, “Because you don’t see the world intentionally through a multiethnic lens, and you kind of see it through your normal viewpoint, you ignore the fact that you’ve been created by God to be white, that allows you kind of to ignore me.”
In this way, he encourages white leaders to examine the ways in which their blindness to their own racial identity may hinder them from fully seeing their brothers and sisters of color around them.
On Building Relationships as a Way Forward
Data from a recent Barna survey conducted in partnership with Dynata show that, as of the summer of 2020, only 37 percent of white adults agree that the U.S. has a race problem. Among Black Americans, however, this number more than doubles (76%). Responding to the data, Loritts agrees this statistic offers significant insights into the state of relationships today, challenging leaders to consider building loving, lasting relationships with people different from themselves; this is a major step towards change. He adds, “It’s hard to be racially indifferent with people who are constantly at your dinner table.”
Regarding entering into these types of relationships across racial lines, Loritts shares, “It takes being intentional, owning what you don’t know and entering into experiences and relationships with people who are different from yourself.”
This opportunity for dialogue across racial lines is what makes Loritts such a big believer in the multiethnic church. He shares, “In the multiethnic church, you put people in a similar space and get them in settings where they’re sharing their experiences and their perspectives. You can’t argue a person’s experience or a person’s perspective.”
About the Research
State of the Black Church data: Online survey of 1,083 U.S. Black adults, plus 822 Black Church churchgoers, conducted April 22–May 6, 2020. The sample error is plus or minus 2.3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
2020 Race Survey Conducted in Partnership with Dynata: The research for this study surveyed 1,525 U.S. adults online between June 18 and July 6, 2020 via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled African American, Asians and Hispanics. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education, and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 at a 95% confidence interval.
Barna research 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, 2021