MLK: “Men should NOT be judged by the color of their skin.”
T4G: “Pastors should be judged by the color of their congregations.” – Pastor Jim Osman
David Platt took the opportunity at the 2018 Together for the Gospel conference to guilt-shame the predominately Anglo-American attendees for their unconfessed racism. (Watch the full message below).
Eisegetically launching from Amos chapter 5 as his proof-text, Platt accused “white” Christians of ignoring the social injustice happening throughout the black communities in America. He further lamented the racial “segregation” among congregations, accusing white churches in particular of “deepening the divide” between black churches. Rather than helping to overcome racism, white churches are a force continuing racism, he opined. He asked wonderingly, “why are so many churches so white?” He even went on to note the majority “whiteness” of Bible colleges, seminaries, and even the T4G conference. Platt then outlined a handful of action points for the white folks to consider so they could recognize the unconfessed racism in their hearts.
Needless to say, Platt’s message stirred up controversy among folks on social media. I am more of the opinion that it was sowing discord among the brethren, but I’m a white guy with racial blind spots, so I’m not supposed to say that. While I recognize a racial divide exists in the church, it has to do more with worldview conflicts rather than racism as I will explain.
I spent probably a good portion of my twitter time on the Thursday after his speech interacting with individuals annoyed that I would accuse Platt of essentially bearing false witness against the T4G attendees. I personally do not believe there was one racist in attendance. A number of individuals were especially bothered that I wrote that Platt’s application of Amos 5 to racial injustice in America was wildly off target and way outside the bounds of the prophet’s context. More on that in a moment.
One pastor, Garrett Kell, (who seems to be a real nice guy, by the way) tweeted out a series of questions of those disagreeing with Platt’s message. I thought they encapsulated my key problems with the talk, so I will allow them to shape my response to Platt in this article.
1. Should Amos 5 be applied to any injustices in our day? If so, which ones? Abortion? Sex-trafficking? Euthanasia? If racism were present in the church, should it apply?
I will say that the most aggravating aspect of Platt’s message was his flagrant misuse of Amos 5. I spent the most time tweeting with individuals attempting to defend him. Ultimately, it comes down to one’s hermeneutic and how a person not only interprets the Bible, but makes application of the text. My antagonists hold to a historic, redemptive-Christological hermeneutic. That means they believe the coming of Jesus somehow allows them to exercise way too much freedom for reinterpreting and misapplying the OT text. I could dedicate an entire blog article just on debunking this first question, but I need to stay focused.
Suffice it to say at this point, Platt started out well in his use of Amos 5. For the first 10 minutes or so, he gave the background and provided the injustices from the text that explain why God is judging Israel. After he establishes what Amos 5 is about, that is when his talk went off the rails. It was clear he was only using Amos 5 as a “proof-text” for his pet issue. He quickly transitioned by stating something like (sorry, pulling this from memory here), “This text beckons us to ask the question, have we been or are we now slow to speak against racial injustice around us.” And he was off shaming the white audience there in the arena.
I am sorry, but Amos 5 has nothing to do with racial injustice in the modern United States. Even MLK’s misapplication of 5:24 will not change this reality. Various detractors challenged my assertion by writing such asinine comments like, “You’re one of those people who thinks a biblical text only has one meaning” and “You’re the problem with Christians in America today, the ones ignoring the OT” and other nonsensical platitudes.
I can say Amos 5 is not applicable to racial injustice in America because Amos expressly states what injustices he had in mind when he rebuked Israel. Most specifically, judges who perverted justice in the gate and the rich who took advantage of the poor. Amos goes on to the tell how God will show up and roll down justice and righteousness on their heads. Keep in mind that God is saying this to a covenant nation who were breaking the commands of the covenant that pertain to loving your neighbor. The best application is toward a church or churches involved in taking advantage of the disadvantaged and the poor in general.
Now as for application in a modern, racial context. Are there black people who have experienced a Heat of the Night judge who misused the American justice system to abuse them. Most certainly. But what relevance is that for white Christians in 2018 attending the T4G conference and listening to Platt’s message online? Why is he calling on people to address racism when there is no racism even present at the conference? American white Christians are not to be held accountable for worldly judicial abuse of black Americans. Unless of course the judge claimed to be a Christian.
2. Which of his 6 exhortations do you think were unbiblical?
Pastor Kell then reproduces Platt’s six exhortations he gave to the audience at T4G. I will look at each one in turn and offer my response.
1) Look at the reality of racism – Okay, sure. Can Platt provide us clear examples of racism in the modern church? The examples he suggested, predominately white churches, white Bible colleges and seminaries, and Christian conferences, DO NOT prove racism exists among Christians. Blacks uncomfortable in white churches and whites uncomfortable in black churches also DOES NOT prove racism. If anything, right or wrong, it proves people like to hang with their own people group.
I know for the majority of white Christians, what draws them together is shared theological and ecclesiastical convictions. When you share theological, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical kinship, the fellowship is sweet no matter your skin color. I know black Christians that share a closer theological kinship with me than a lot of white folks I know. I eagerly enjoy the fellowship I have with them because of that.
2) Live in true multi-ethnic community – It seems like I am hearing this new woke generation telling us that if our churches don’t have an equal amount of blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Canadians, etc, you’re doing church wrong. Of course, what about those churches in Salem, Missouri, where the closest individuals of any minority are two to three hours away in St. Louis or Kansas City? Are those rural Christians living in true, multi-ethnic community as a 100% white church, or are they required to bus minorities in on Sunday mornings? Are they “sacrificing their preferences,” as Platt said?
Again, what sets the Christian community apart from all other communities is the fundamental and transcendent work of the Gospel. Even Platt said as much. Christians from every tribe, tongue, and nation who are saved, converted sinners now following Jesus. They desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. They worship together because of that reality. That is true, ethnic community. There is not a church anywhere preventing that from happening due in part to racism.
3) Listen to and learn from one another – In his talk, Platt pointed out the large chasm between the worldviews of white and black Christians. The example he noted was how in the last election, 80% of white Christians voted for Trump, whereas 80% of black Christians voted for Clinton. He presents a kind of Polyannish notion that if white and black believers would just listen to and learn from one another, such massive worldview separations will be bridged. Of course, it is implied that white Christians have the greater responsibility to listen and learn, not the other way around.
But as I noted, what we have here is a worldview difference and I don’t believe any amount of listening and learning from either side will ever bridge it. As a white Christian, I am grieved that many black Christians have worked in tandem with a leftist political party that has savaged their communities. The most horrifying example being Plan Parenthood’s mechanized butchery of their unborn. That is an injustice far greater than racism. Are they willing to not only listen and learn from my outrage, but to repent and drive those human slaughterhouses out of their neighborhoods?
4) Love and lay aside our preferences for one another – Platt suggests a laying aside of our individual personal preference issues, what ever that means. He was kind of vague, I thought. If laying aside preference issues means I compromise my convictions or have to change the way I preach and do church, that’s not gonna happen. And does that cut both ways with the other ethnic groups?
5) Let’s leverage our influence for justice in the present – Attempting to influence justice is drifting from the stated purpose of the Christian church to go into all the world and make disciples. Now. Will there be individual Christians who will bring to bear their Christian ethics into our society that will in turn influence justice for the better? Certainly. But that is not the mission of the church as a whole.
6) Let’s long for the day when justice will be perfect – Amen, and amen. Only Jesus can do this when he sets up his kingdom on earth.
3. Which of the statistics that David highlighted about the presence of racism / racialization in our country would you disagree with?
It is not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with statistics. Statistics are statistics. The disagreement is along the lines of whether or not those statistics are truly relevant in exposing alleged racism in the Christian church, and how are we to respond to them. I am personally of the opinion the racism Platt speaks of is greatly exaggerated, if not non-existent. He gives the example of churches targeting specific groups of people to the exclusion of other groups of people for the purpose of rapid, numerical growth. But is that necessarily an inherent racist methodology? If a black family were to join that church, they are not going to be turned away because they are black. More than likely they are of the same targeted social-economic group. They will feel more comfortable in a so-called “white” church that shares their values and worldview convictions.
4. If you did have blind spots in this area, how would you know?
What exactly is meant by “blind spots?” Are those “blind spots” shared equally between both white and black Christians or are they only unique to white Christians? Platt’s message seemed to suggest the latter. Give me some illustrations of those blind spots and maybe I can evaluate whether or not I know I have them.
Just so that I am clear, I am not denying that racists exist in the Christian church. The hearts of men are desperately wicked. Even those who profess Christ with their mouths can be guilty of that grievous sin across all kinds of ethnic groups.
What I am saying is that David Platt recklessly inflates the systemic racism he claims is in the church. He is correct that there exists a divide between black and white churches, but that has nothing to do with white Christians ignoring injustices made toward the black community or harboring racist blind spots. The deep disparity dividing white churches from black churches has more to do with the distinct cultural worldviews that regrettably conflict with each other. The only true solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ regenerating hearts and sanctifying sinners. The pastors of both groups need to believe and affirm the whole counsel of the Word of God. They then need to proclaim the Word of God with conviction from their pulpits. If they were to do this, they will not need to identify specific ethnic groups for social justice. It will be God who will bring the diversity to the church. For He has promised a church redeemed by the blood of Christ out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation!