Is the church impotent to end racism?

Crazy Faith Ministries

Is the Christian church supposed to be able to destroy racism?

The words of the Christ, taught to me, were awe-inspiring, powerful and had the power of transformation. The Christ taught that love was the principle upon which all things of God must stand. We were taught to love everyone – our friends and our enemies. In so doing, the world would be transformed.

Though the directive did not seem difficult, it in fact was and is. Unconditional love, and with it, the capacity to forgive people and through action, lead them to God, is what the Christ showed us. Jesus the Christ saw no difference between people; one race or one gender was no better than another. We were directed to live in community with each other.

But it seems that God’s people needed and still need more direction. If we believe that God created us all, then the variety of races and ethnicities is of God and from God. We in the church are supposed to represent the God whom we say we love. That would seem to mean that we work to embrace all of God’s created people.

The church does not do that, however. The Christian church – and other religions as well – have found it difficult to embrace and to accept the concept and the practice of love. Instead of being a voice for the voiceless, or a home for the homeless, instead of being a community of like-believers, members of the church are dividers. Instead of gathering people into community, the church characteristically drives people apart – all in the name of the Christ.

It seems that this institution, which has such transformative power, has forfeited that power and replaced it with naked humanity, humanity which gives in to base emotions and prejudices, all the while ignoring God and the words of the Christ that form the spine of the church. The church engages in prejudice and hatred and sees nothing wrong with it.

That is a problem.

During the Civil Rights Movement, some pastors of White churches in the South preached that it was OK to treat Black people poorly, and that to defend the Civil Rights Movement meant that one could lose favor with God and jeopardize one’s own salvation. The Church, North and South, Black and White, debated over the essential meaning of Christianity. There was a clear divide, in spite of the words of the Christ. Individualism began to emerge as a Christian tenet, as opposed to “the Beloved Community.”

The Church developed a bifurcated theology; White theology was and is distinctly different from that of African Americans, and there is no intersection point. Those White pastors and church members who challenged White theology paid a price; many pastors lost their churches, and many church members lost friends and ended up leaving the churches they loved.

There were pangs of protest in the very souls of a few. Both Black and White Christians often remained silent, Blacks because they were not interested in “causing a stir” and perhaps upsetting the tenuous “freedom” they had, and Whites because they could and did lose so much. Some White pastors in Mississippi dared confront this bifurcated Christian theology and wrote a statement dubbed Born of Conviction in 1963.

In that document, the pastors wrote, “confronted with the grace crises precipitated by racial discord without our state in recent months, and the genuine dilemma facing persons of Christian conscience, we are compelled to voice publicly our convictions. Indeed, as Christian ministers and as native Mississippians, sharing the anguish of all our people, we have a particular obligation to speak.”

They did speak, but their cries were overpowered by the noise of racism being practiced in and by the church. Dr. King addressed the weakness, the impotence of the Church, the progressive Church in particular, in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, but in the end, neither the voices of anguished White Southern pastors or an anguished Black civil rights leader could say or do whatever needed to be said or done to end racism.

Has the Church failed, then, as a moral force against racism? Up to this point, that seems to be the case. The Church, the Christian church, in spite of having a revolutionary named Jesus as the center of its belief system, has pushed the Christ to the curb and continues to help nurture this illness called racism which will ultimately destroy this country.

Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Contact her at


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