Friday, April 6, 2018

Matt Chandler Calls Social Justice Dissenters "Ignorant Fools." A Pastoral Evaluation of Chandler's MLK50 Sermon

Photo Credit: Christian News- Matt Chandler at MLK50
Just yesterday the Gospel Coalition asked Pastor Matt Chandler of Acts 29 ministries to preach a confrontational sermon specifically aimed at white pastors and white Christians.  The sermon was titled, A House Divided Cannot Stand: Understanding and Overcoming the Inconsistencies in White Evangelicals on Racial Issues. Matt Chandler has been a leading voice within "conservative evangelicalism" with regards to subjects like white privilege, the majority culture, racial reconciliation,  systemic racialization/oppression, institutional racism, and housing, police, and legal discrimination against people of color, etc.  Now if you went to public university, read the Huffington Post, and/or watch CNN or MSNBC, you are already very familiar with critical race theory. The Gospel Coalition has presented countless numbers of articles on this subject. But for those who are not familiar with this ideology, what is critical race theory anyways

Harvard University summarizes it as follows: Critical race theories combine progressive political struggles for racial justice with critiques of the conventional legal and scholarly norms which are themselves viewed as part of the illegitimate hierarchies that need to be changed. Scholars, most of whom are themselves persons of color, challenge the ways that race and racial power are constructed by law and culture. One key focus of critical race theorists is a regime of white supremacy and privilege maintained despite the rule of law and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Agreeing with critical theorists and many feminists that law itself is not a neutral tool but instead part of the problem, critical race scholars identify inadequacies of conventional civil rights litigation. Critical race theorists nonetheless fault critical legal scholars as failing to develop much to attract people of color and for neglecting the transformative potential of rights discourse in social movements, regardless of the internal incoherence or indeterminacy of rights themselves.

Let me say from the get go that in my wide circle of pastor-friends from around the country none of these ministers (to my knowledge) are "uncomfortable confronting real racism" nor do any them oppose genuine Gospel-centered "racial unity" in the Christian church.  We all glory in the heavenly scene of worship in Revelation; as believers from around the globe worship the Lamb who was slain for our salvation (see Revelation 5:9-14).   My pastoral network all support local and global missions because we serve a Global-minded God.  Most of our churches have sent out many missionaries and our short-term missions teams; etc.

Matt Chandler however says this is not so!  By Chandler and TGC's definitions, white Christians are largely "ignorant" and/or are "just plain fools" (i.e. racist).  Chandler said "I don't hate my people" (referring to whites) "I just hate fools!" (i.e. those who don't view this issue the way that I now do).  I realize that some readers will accuse me of putting words in brother Chandler's mouth.  Brother-pastors if you have not listened to Chandler's sermon at MLK50 and read TGC's many articles on this subject please reserve judgment until you have done so My aim in this final blog is to evaluate Pastor Chandler's TGC message against the back drop of the Word of God and to share my pastoral perspective along the way.  

Before his MLK50 message Chandler's Village church praise team presented a social justice praise song titled "Walk With You."  This worship song begins with a quote from Dr. King.  You can listen for yourself by clicking here.  The lyrics of this song set the stage for what Matt was about to share in his talk.

In yesterday's MLK50 sermon that was broadcast around the country, Chandler said that Christians who are uncomfortable confronting racism are part of a “cascading effect, and it starts with ignorance. … They don’t know what they don’t know and they are part of a system that encourages their not knowing.”  Chandler then talked about how much of this stems from what is not being taught in the public schools.  He suggested that private schools are worse (as the audience chuckled).  Chandler believes Church leaders need to fill in these gaps with regards to black history and with regards to present day systemic racism.

Here Pastor Matt swears in public and expresses his perspective
Let's think through this loaded accusation.  If you are familiar with two of the leading churchmen of our era you know that Pastors John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul do not share TGC's perspective concerning various  aspects of critical race theory/the social gospel.  This partially explains why faithful white pastors like this, as well as courageous black pastors like Voddie Baucham, did not respond to the Ferguson riots the way many Gospel Coalition leaders like Thabiti Anyabwile, Tim Keller, and Matt Chandler did.  From that whole ordeal it was obvious that the conservative Evangelical church is divided over this subjectBut ask yourself this, "Does Chandler really believe these giants of the faith are ignorant (by experience and learning)? Or is it possible that certain Christians simply view this multi-layered issue differently than TGC does?  Calling fellow (in many cases, like-minded) Christians "ignorant" is a bold charge.  Labeling people who don't agree with you as "fools" is strong language.  You readers will need to examine the evidence Chandler provides to see if these things be so (be sure to read the Christian perspective from the other side too).

In his message Chandler went on to say, “If I preach the sermon out of the book of Isaiah on justice, my inbox would fill with their glee that I would broach the subject. But if I applied it to the subject of race, then all of a sudden I was a Marxist or I’ve been watching too much of the liberal media. If I spoke on abortion, I was applauded as courageous, as a ferocious man of God, and yet when I would tackle race I was being too political … If I quoted the great reformer Martin Luther … never did I get an email about his blatant anti-Semitism. But let me quote the great reformer Martin Luther King Jr., and watch my inbox fill with people asking me if I’m aware of his moral brokenness.”  

Let's consider this lengthy quote for a moment.  It is important to point out that the common "buzz words" that many Gospel Coalition authors/speakers use today are not original to themOne of the things thinking Christians need to do is to study where do these critical race theories originate from?  I am talking about controversial concepts such as "white privilege."  The same principle is necessary when a believer studies "psychology."  It is vitally important that one understands Freudian thought before one determines whether or not you should integrate biblical principles with secular psychology.  More on that another time.   

Regarding Chandler's comparison between quoting Martin Luther and citing Martin Luther King Jr. in sermons and getting much different responses from his mostly white congregation.  I have heard plenty of Christians from various denominations express their appreciation for Luther's heroic boldness in defending the gospel doctrine of "Sola Fide" (justification by faith alone) against the Roman Catholic Church.  But I have also listened to plenty of believers and pastors point out the tragic anti-Semitic thought in Luther's later writings.  Luther, like so many of us, sometimes struggled to control his tongue.  Those who embrace Premillenialism eschatology tend to be be especially grieved over the sinful rhetoric in Luther (not to mention his actions against Anabaptists).  For more on the great Protestant Reformer's warts read Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. To get a balanced portrait of this Christian theologians strengths and weaknesses watch this new Luther documentary.  Suffice it to say, when Matt Chandler claims that no one in his church mentioned Martin Luther's warts but many white people were quick to point out Dr. King's unorthodox theology and his sexual  immorality it's really not that compelling of an argument.  Chandler's experience at the Village Church is not universal and the theological and moral differences between the two men are not comparable.

Chandler quickly noted that his address is not aimed at "FOOLS."  He has no time for them.  He went on explain who the fools are and then differentiated between white Christians who are IGNORANT versus those who are just ignorant FOOLS.  This very popular conference preacher went on to say that his local church lost about 300 members when he started focusing many of his sermons on social justice, racial reconciliation, white privilege, systemic oppression, etc.  What shocked me was when Chandler referred to these 300 Christians as being FOOLS.  Chandler said his elder board did not shed a tear when these ignorant people left Village Church.  If you want a first hand account of what type of FOOLISH believer Chandler attacked in this address you can peruse this Christian police officers firsthand account.  In it you will read many of Pastor Chandler's public Tweets that certain church members took issue with. Some of these public statements have been included in this article.
Matt Chandler- Posted by a former Village Church member

Quoting Chandler again from MLK50, “There is nothing about how the majority of white men and women are educated that would lead us to believe that Africans and African-Americans are intellectual, innovative or creative except a couple a y’all in sports or entertainment.”  Say what?  Many of my white friends and family members believe Condoleezza Rice is one of the smartest geo-political minds in the world today.  We would only wish that our nation's Supreme Court would be chaired by nine Clarence Thomas'!  Faithful black preachers like Voddie Baucham and Conrad Mbewe can fill my expository pulpit anytime they desire. Our nation overwhelmingly elected an African-American President (twice over).

Ultimately, Chandler said that the solution moving forward is for churches to talk about race and racism—despite potential blow-back: “There is no way forward if white pulpits won’t talk.”   By "talk" Chandler means you need to help your congregations see that how our "coalition" views social justice issues is in fact the gospel truth. Follow my example brother-pastors.  Do what I have successfully done at Village Church (listen to the sermon friends).  White Pastors need to go into their mostly "white churches" and drive out foolishness while informing the ignorant.  Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, the pastor of The Village Church said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

Chandler added that he had a difficult time sleeping the night before because he knew what he was asking of some of them.  If you apply what you heard in this conference you might be criticized, bullied and fired pastors.  Implied in this rhetoric is that some of you will be persecuted for righteousness sake as you champion these social justice convictions.  TGC obviously believes it is the truth about racial justice that is diving certain white evangelical churches (not error).  Stop and think through these implications and exhortations friends.

Chandler encouraged white pastors to begin by preaching on the Bible's view of ethnicity and unity. "Ethnic harmony is one of the great themes of the Bible. This is the refrain of the Bible over and over and over again," he said, adding, "Jesus consistently confronted broken thinking about ethnicity."  The underline theme of this message is that white churches are ignorant of their white privilege and are often unaware of their racism.  Chandler encouraged white evangelicals to find black evangelicals who think differently then you do about these issues and to listen to them (minute 20) that you might "champion their position."  Chandler did not encourage his audience to apply this same principle.  He then took, what appeared to me to be a veiled shot at faithful black leaders like Voddie Baucham, when he said blacks that think like white evangelicals do on this subject "are probably trying to win your approval or a position."  Chandler's said if we're to move forward public school "textbooks must be revised.  Structures must change."  Black leaders must be given legitimate places of authority and board positions in our Christian schools, seminaries, churches, and para-church ministries.  "We do not want to put on ministry events where anglo-communicators outweigh people of color."  Chandler noted that white evangelicals are often guilty of "tokenism."  "What I share today does not flow out of "white guilt" or out of "political convictions."  "This is about the gospel!"  Many evangelicals conduct is not in step with the truth of the gospel!  This is sin and you (white evangelicals) need to repent.  Chandler closed by saying you can't rescue a fool but many whites are just plain ignorant.  And ignorance leads to immaturity which sometimes leads to hostility or withdrawal.  I am not giving white people a pass I am just trying to help my African-American understand.  Some of you pastors are going to get fired as you bring this message into your white churches.  Such biblical fidelity, Chandler added, will put in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith chapter."

Personal Perspective and Recent History-  In my last ministry our 173 year old Baptist Church was located near the lower income part of town (in an economically depressed city).  Over nine years my family and I reached out to many low income children and families.  My wife and I took many precious black children with us to get ice cream at Union Dairy, we had needy children over to our home on holidays like Father's Day, we paid for low income black children to go to the movies with our own four children, handed out morning and afternoon snacks to the kids when we lived next to Blackhawk school.  Our daughter's closest friends were black, white, and brown and they were also precious children.

Our local church, though small, had a vibrant outreach ministry via Awana and Youth Group.  In fact, before I transitioned to a new ministry, of our 50-60 children and teens that joined us on Wednesday night, 85% of them were from the community and the vast majority of them were not white.  Whoever came we tried to reach for Christ.  I saw our congregation provide scholarships, meals, and do genuine gospel-centered evangelism.  I also watched my flock lovingly welcome a Mexican family into our church family; (in fact the husband/father became my closest friend).  I proudly witnessed our congregation overwhelmingly affirm an Indian believer as one of the main lay leaders in our local church.   Despite the content of my character I have been publicly called a RACIST by fellow TGC-minded believers- simply because I do not agree with all the conclusions and solutions of either critical race theory or the Gospel Coalition's vision of social justice.  What's happened to me has happened to many others.  Where does this type of thinking stem from?  In my humble opinion, I believe TGC has unintentionally brought unnecessary division within the American Church.  If true, this would be the ultimate (tragic) irony. 

Friends, we saw first hand how broken the family unit is in our city.  Many of the great challenges public school teachers and bus drivers had in Freeport often came back to serious behavior issues.  I felt the pain associated with drug and alcohol addictions (and saw how it impacted children).  I witnessed the epidemic of promiscuous sexual behavior among kids and adults and watched how children followed in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.  I heard first hand accounts of what nurses saw in the hospitals.  I observed how so many men from 18-55 walked the streets or hung out at the local library day after day.  This is a multi-layered issue with many different root problems/challenges.  

Ironically and sadly, the evangelical Church seems to be dividing more as a result of this "social justice" emphasis that has become so en vogue these day.  Once united churches and Christian friends (Gal. 3:28) are beginning to distance themselves from one another.  I grieve over this (per John 17).

Why do I write these articles?  I do so because many of us are concerned that the church is (unknowingly) drifting from her central mission and chief message (Col. 1:28-29; 1 Cor. 1-2).  Before jumping headfirst on this social activist bandwagon please consider the perspective of two veteran missionaries to Africa (read article here).  Listen to what wiser shepherds like John MacArthur have to say concerning this often explosive subject.  Read about MacArthur's own gospel ministry during the height of segregation in the Deep South wherein he was arrested in Iain Murray's biography (note John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock, chapter ).

I've written this series because I have witnessed a double standard and selective demonizing at TGC that seems to be more political in nature (than theological).  (see this post)

FINAL PLEA- Before calling white Christians who view this multi-layered issue ignorant fools, or closet racists please consider their lives and the content of their character.  Let us write clearly, listen humbly, and speak and act in Christ-like ways.

The entire Scripture is summarized in two commands.  Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and strive to "love your neighbor(s) as you love yourself. Christian love believes the best and rejoices in the truth.

The best quote that summarizes my overarching perspective on MLK50 and TGC's longstanding position on social justice was said by another godly Pastor (Tom Ascol).  His quote is to the point and is great counsel for all of us to try and live byMay God grant His Church wisdom, courage, humility, and grace as we discuss these issues before a lost world.
"I regularly remind myself and people I love that we have enough trouble dealing with real sins, we do not need to try to manufacture more according to our own proclivities."  Pastor Tom Ascol