Houston pastor rejects 'post-modern' SBC responses to Ferguson riots

by Will Hall, |
(FILE) Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson speaks during a news conference in Weldon Springs, Missouri November 11, 2014. During a different press conference November 25, in the aftermath of violence in Ferguson, Johnson said, "Change is created through our voice, not the destruction of our community." REUTERS/Kenny Baht

HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) – Randy White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, is a leader among pastors seeking justice against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman for denying voters' petitions asking for a citywide ballot about a transsexuals' rights bill.

Now he is taking on some Southern Baptist Convention leaders for what he describes as their "post-modern response" to the riots in Ferguson.

White said they are among "ever-more-left-leaning evangelicals" who are telling others not to rush to judgment about rioters in Ferguson and the crimes committed after the St. Louis County grand jury found there was no probable cause to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, for the Aug. 9 lethal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

"Ferguson has erupted in barbaric violence that should cause all law-abiding citizens to demand the restoration of the rule-of-law," White said, "but the evangelical world is preaching kum-ba-ya sermons about race-relations."

These messages seem to suggest that anyone who sees the Ferguson aftermath in terms of criminal behavior is a racist, White said. But he insists to the contrary, he is just a responsible citizen with a biblical worldview.

His comments are part of a 1,750 word blog post, "The Evangelical Response to Ferguson, And why I don't get it," viewed by more than 16,000 readers since it was posted Nov. 26.

While White pushed back against a trend he sees in the evangelical community in general, he specifically complained about fellow Southern Baptists he said were part of the liberal chorus.

He named Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a department within retailer LifeWay Christian Resources; and Eric Mason, pastor of Philadelphia's Epiphany Fellowship, an SBC congregation, for commentaries they published. Moore wrote "Ferguson and the Path to Peace," Stetzer penned "A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond," and Mason composed "Good Grief: The gospel, race, and our experiences."

White complained these writers glossed over the significance of the crimes to argue that white evangelicals lack empathy to understand the pain of black Americans. But the Houston pastor took special issue with a commentary by Matthew Hall, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a research fellow at Moore's ERLC.

Hall wrote "What's the Big Deal with Race?" posted on "Cannon and Culture," a project of the ERLC.

In particular, White condemned Hall's claim of a "gospel demand" for correction of "racial injustice" as the only legitimate response for evangelicals.

White said racial reconciliation is a good thing and a social issue but not a "gospel demand."

"This kind of talk has become common in post-modern church-world," he said. "If we make it one of the 'gospel's demands' then we can't really question it.

"If there is something biblical that expresses racial reconciliation as a gospel demand," he posited, "I've missed it."

White also probed Hall's failure to specify or give examples of racial injustice in the Brown case. "He never defines it. I'm sure he could, but I suspect he won't. To be so clear would invite too much criticism. I wonder what the Hall / ERLC version of racial justice would look like in Ferguson?"

He also questioned Hall's theological claims that mankind is "spring-loaded to see ourselves superior" to other individuals and groups, and, that "sin is never confined merely to the orbit of individual choice or personal responsibility."

"Does the Bible doctrine of man portray us as spring-loaded toward personal superiority?" White asked. "For every biblical example you give, I'm pretty certain I could find a biblical example of one who was spring-loaded toward inferiority."

"If sin is 'never confined to the orbit of individual choice or personal responsibility,' is society to blame?" White reflected. "Do the thugs looting businesses and burning police cars have a personal choice and responsibility for their actions? Are we wrong to say that the individuals of Ferguson riots have made a 'personal choice' and have a 'responsibility for their actions?' To blame society for a crime committed by an individual is soundly insane."

In the end, White said Hall's article was crafted to "elicit feelings of guilt" on the part of all whites for the sins of a few blacks who looted and burned Ferguson. "That's a feeling I typically get," he said, "when evangelicals talk about race."

For his part, Moore said the tension should remind the church "that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us."

White Americans tend to view such matters "in isolation, dealing only with the known facts of the case at hand," he said, and black Americans "view these crises through a wider lens, the question of whether African-American youth are too often profiled and killed in America."

White people do not face the same experiences as black people, Moore offered, and must "recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers."

Stetzer said white evangelicals, specifically, should "talk a little less and listen a little more. Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn't be upset and spend more time asking why some are."

Mason, a black pastor, also echoed that theme.

He pointed to his seminary experience where he encountered "naivety and lack of empathy among my white evangelical brothers.

"Because some of the progress that had been made up to that point (in terms of opportunities for African Americans), many evangelicals seemed to view racism as a thing of the past," he said. "As I entered conversations on race in this sector, it was clear to me that there was a common misconception that any talk of racism was seen as whining, or an attempt to utilize the past as justification for laziness in the present.

"It grieves me that in the multiethnic church that I pastor," Mason continued, "that when I engage SOME of our white congregants, I have to have one of my white elders present to make sure they (whom I will give an account to God for) feel comfortable when they meet with me."

Applying these points to the Michael Brown verdict, he said "I tried to make equitable statements that spoke to both African Americans and whites in the Christian world. What I found was profoundly grievous from some of my white brothers. The lack of empathy and ignorance and the depth of naivety was heart breaking."

The St. Louis Dispatch reported that in the aftermath of the rioting in Ferguson Nov. 24, there was basically "nothing left" along West Florissant Avenue between Solway Avenue and Chambers Road, a mostly black populated area of the city. Rioters set businesses ablaze, some black-owned, and looted beer, cigars, clothes and auto parts from others.

The Dispatch also carried comments by Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, a 27-year veteran, and black, peace officer and lifelong resident of the St. Louis area.

"We talked about peaceful protest, and that did not happen tonight," he said. "We definitely have done something here that's going to impact our community for a long time ... That's not how we create change.

"Change is created through our voice, not the destruction of our community," Johnson said.