By / Oct 15

A new survey of 17 advanced economies finds that the United States is one of the most conflicted when it comes to questions of social unity. In just about every category of the survey — politics, race, ethnicity, geography, and religion — Americans see strong societal conflicts. A majority also believe that there is a disagreement over basic facts. 

None of the countries surveyed are as divided over political and ethnic conflicts as Americans. Almost all (90%) say there are conflicts between people who support different political parties and nearly 3-in-4 (71%) say the same when it comes to ethnic and racial groups. 

The divisions are most pronounced between people who practice different religions, between partisan political groups, between racial and ethnic backgrounds, and between urban and rural residents. 

Black and Hispanic adults, as well as Democrats and those who lean Democrat, are more likely to say there is a strong or very strong conflict between people who practice different religions. Sixty-two percent of Black Americans, 56% of Hispanics, and 56% of Republicans identify such conflict, compared to 44% of White adults and 39% of Republicans. More than half of all Americans (52%) also say there are strong or very strong conflicts between people who are religious and people who are not religious. 

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%) say that racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious problem in the U.S. However, Black adults and Democrats (both at 82%) are more likely to see such conflict than are Hispanics (70%), Whites (69%), and Republicans (58%). 

The area of conflict identified by the fewest percentage of Americans was between people who live in cities and people who live in rural areas. Only 42% find there is a strong or very strong conflict between these geographic regions. Yet even there, Americans are much more likely than some other countries to identify an urban/rural conflict. In comparison, only 12% of those in Spain and 18% in Japan say the same.  

A significant majority of Americans also say that when it comes to important issues facing the U.S., people may disagree over policies but most people disagree over basic facts. About 60% of Democrats, Republicans, Whites, and Hispanics make that claim, compared to 49% of Black adults. Moderates, whether they lean toward Democrats or Republicans, are also less likely to see disagreement over basic facts (54% and 52%, respectively) than are conservatives (62%) and liberals (68%). 

How should Christians think about these findings?

First of all, Christians should be people of the truth. In our day of misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lack of trust in basic facts, those who trust in Christ should be known as people of reasonableness (Phil. 4:5) and those who can be trusted (James 5:12). We must not contribute to spreading falsehoods and stirring up strife. We serve the God of truth (Heb. 6:18) and are called to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), making known his character to those around us. This is true whether we are within our homes, step out of our front doors, or post on social media. So, in addition to understanding God’s Word, seeking to love him with all of our minds in this age (Matt. 22:37) means pursuing correct information online and refusing to flippantly share stories we don’t fully understand. Our conduct should be above reproach, and oftentimes that means holding off on posting until we gather more information and can share in a way that is helpful and upright.   

Secondly, Christian should be people of love and kindness. It would be a tragedy — and displeasing to our God — if we are known as contributors of the conflict problem in our country. While we can’t control conflict brought upon us for the faith we hold in Christ (Matt. 5:11-12), we are responsible for the conflict we heap upon others. For the sake of God’s glory, we are to be people of good conduct (1 Pet. 2:12), showing gentleness and respect toward those around us (1 Pet. 3:15). Love and kindness does not mean approving of what is evil (Rom. 1:32), but it does mean being marked by the humility of Christ (Phil. 2). 

And, of all people, we should demonstrate love and kindness to toward fellow believers. Jesus said that we, as Christians, will be known as his disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). We have become one body in Christ (Rom. 12), yet, we often treat one another as enemies and act as if ethnic, racial, political, or even geographic differences should take priority in how we align with one another. Instead of justifying such conflict — especially online — we should intentionally heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). 

As we read over these survey results, we should ask ourselves how we might be contributing to the tenor of conflict in our country. Are you known as being a person of conflict? Or, overall, would others point to you as a person of truth, love, and kindness? May the Lord make us more like him for the sake of the gospel.

By / Mar 23

Like many around me, I have thought about what is required of the Christian in a time of national crisis, much like the one presented to us with COVID-19.

I recalled an essay in the collected works of Martin Luther titled, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” that aims at just this question. In characteristic Luther flair, it is filled with practical advice and theological reflection on what a Christian should do in a time of plague or pestilence. The essay can be read in full by visiting here. I recommend reading it not only for the sage advice it offers, but to understand that our present fears have been met before by an age that precedes us.

Luther addresses almost every question relevant to our present concerns: Who should stay? Who can go? Should one use medicine? What about hospitals? Should one avoid crowds? Should one throw caution to the wind and just continue acting normally?

An ethic of responsible love

My purpose is not to rehash all of what Luther writes. Rather, I want to summarize what Luther seems to be calling for as a general principle to inform our understanding: An ethic of responsible love. An ethic of this approach is why Luther can simultaneously insist that one should serve the sick to the best of their ability using wisdom, yet, where one has no obligations, they are right to abstain from crowds. 

Luther insists that one should neither fear nor disregard. He says that a Christian should trust God, exercise godly wisdom, and above all, act sacrificially and responsibly toward your neighbor. This is why he counsels utilizing the best practices available to prevent a disease’s spread while acknowledging that our fate is in God’s hands and we are called above all, to a concern for those around us out of our service to Christ.

Luther does not command one action for all persons. Here is one quote from Luther that I think captures the heart of his advice:

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another […] our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. 


We must pray against every form of evil and guard against it to the best of our ability in order not to act contrary to God, as was previously explained. If it be God’s will that evil come upon us and destroy us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in this pestilence in the same way as if I were in fire, water, drought, or any other danger.” If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, “Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it. I am nevertheless in thy hands in this danger as in any other which might overtake me. Thy will be done. My flight alone will not succeed of itself because calamity and harm are everywhere. Moreover, the devil never sleeps. He is a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44] and tries everywhere to instigate murder and misfortune.

In the same way we must and we owe it to our neighbor to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. If there are enough other people around to put the fire out, I may either go home or remain to help. If he falls into the water or into a pit I dare not turn away but must hurry to help him as best I can. If there are others to do it, I am released. If I see that he is hungry or thirsty, I cannot ignore him but must offer food and drink, not considering whether I would risk impoverish- ing myself by doing so. A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor. He will always reckon with the possibility that doing so will bring some disadvantage and damage, danger and loss. No neighbor can live alongside another without risk to his safety, property, wife, or child. He must run the risk that fire or some other accident will start in the neighbor’s house and destroy him bodily or deprive him of his goods, wife, children, and all he has.

Notice that Luther says we should guard against a disease’s spread to the best of our ability while at the same time look for ways to serve our neighbor. Luther is calling us to an ethic of responsible love. 

We are obligated to not cast off the wisdom made available to us that would chasten the disease’s spread. We are called first to exercise watchful care over each space that has called us. We act this way out of a deferential concern for our neighbor—to serve them. For some, love will mean exercising the proper judgment in serving those who might be quarantined by making a grocery run on their behalf. For others with particularly vulnerable medical conditions, the loving thing to do for your family is to remain isolated—on their behalf. What underwrites each of these responses is love mediated through responsible action.

Right now, there’s the temptation to moralize or judge others for how each responds to the coronavirus emergency. I’ve seen churches criticized for suspending services, as though doing so means pastors are operating on the basis of fear, not faith. Please, do not do that. Luther in fact criticizes those who take brazen disregard for their lives and the lives of those around them. Be cautious and assume the best. Pastors are making excruciating decisions to best serve their congregations through a myriad of concerns and matrixes. Each person (and church) is processing matters differently using their individual and collective wisdom. 

If we are to call on each other to do anything, let us call on each other to pursue an ethic of loving responsibility and do our best to understand what that means for each and every person and each and every church. Scoffing cynicism and careless disregard for government instruction runs contrary not only to Luther, but to Scripture’s ordination of civil government.

I close with a final quote from Luther’s essay that brilliantly captures an ethic of responsible love:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city.

By / Aug 6

The Bible speaks directly to multi-ethnic ministry. God’s picture of eternal life is one of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Travis Wussow discusses this with Trillia Newbell, Juan Sanchez, Afhsin Ziafat, and Josh Smith at the Southern Baptist Convention Pre-Conference.

By / Jun 26

Jason Cook went to school and pastored in some of the most segregated areas in the South. And he’s currently on staff at a racially diverse church in Memphis, TN. So when he talks about race and ministry, we should pay attention. Listen in as he asks the question, “Should we give up on multi-ethnic ministry?”

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By / Feb 7

At the ERLC’s National Conference, Bryan Loritts, a pastor in California, spoke about the necessity of Christians crossing ethnic lines and investing in others who are different than us. His message,  Right Color, Wrong Culture: Pursuing Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement, is a must-listen, especially in our current cultural climate. This message will equip you to build relationships that look more like God’s intention for the church.

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By / Feb 10

On Aug. 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. took his place alongside Abraham Lincoln as a preeminent shaper of American culture when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to 250,000 civil rights supporters. The most oft quoted line of the famous speech is, “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” Some have appropriated King's words (wrongly I think) to argue that a colorblind society should be our ultimate goal.

King was arguing for racial equality, which does not necessitate a colorblind society. He uttered those words in a context where sinister Jim Crow laws legally codified the message that white skin meant a man was inherently superior and black skin meant a man was inherently inferior, even something less than a man. King’s rhetorical masterpiece publicly exposed the hypocrisy of America: A country founded in liberty as the land of “freedom and justice for all,” subjugating a people for no other reason than the shade of their skin.

“Separate but equal” was the bankrupt cry of segregationists opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The segregationist mindset has been largely repudiated in American culture. Tragically, the one time in which America still functions as a segregated society is on Sunday morning. One article, “Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations,” published in Sociological Inquiry (July 2010) found that 90 percent of congregations in the U.S. are segregated (a single racial group accounts for more than 80 percent of membership). That Sunday morning worship is the most segregated hour of Christian America has become cliché, but it is largely true. The usual defensive response when these facts are mentioned is that we all believe in racial equality, but we cannot help the fact racial groups have different preferences when it comes to worship, preaching and how church is done. In other words, we may be separate but we’re equal, so it's nothing to worry about.

Often pastors seek vindication for the lack of congregational ethnic diversity in a toleration ethic. The attitude seems to be: If someone of another race wants to attend our church, we would be glad to have them, so there is no problem here. In this kind of thinking, tolerating racial and ethnic diversity amounts to doing our Christian duty. However, a genuinely Christian attitude toward racial and ethnic diversity is not one of toleration, but celebration. The human race was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27, Acts 17:26). Just as we are to join him in delighting in His diverse design of the created order, we are also to join him in delighting in His diverse design in his image bearers. The entire human race shares a common descent as the fallen children of Adam (Gen. 3:17, 1 Cor. 15:22). The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is made up of redeemed image bearers described as “one new man” (Eph. 2:15), a new race and ethnicity of people whose identity is found in being united by faith to Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).

The church of Jesus Christ lives between the times as elect exiles: The kingdom has been inaugurated by Christ, but awaits its final consummation. Thus, we have already been reconciled with one another in Christ, but we still await final consummated reconciliation. The glory of the triumphant eschatological kingdom of Christ will be demonstrated by the multi-ethnic diversity of worshippers who exult, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The inclusion of ethnically diverse peoples in the household of God is God's intention, fulfilling his gospel promise (Gen. 3:15, Gen. 12, 15, Ps. 67, Acts 2, Rom. 4, Gal. 3, 4, Eph. 2, 4, Rev. 5, 7, 14). Culturally derived worldviews which root identity in race and ethnicity are directly at odds with the gospel of Jesus Christ and must be subordinated by those who truly say, “Jesus is Lord.” As we live between the times, a vital way that local churches reflect the glory of his kingdom is through being intentionally multi-ethnic outposts of the kingdom who celebrate diversity in Christ, including diversity of skin color.

Issues related to ethnicity are not incidental to the unfolding gospel story in redemptive history—they are fundamental. For instance, sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark notes that the city of Antioch, during days of Roman rule, was divided into 18 different and intensely antagonistic ethnic groups with almost no social integration (The Rise of Christianity, 157-158). It was followers of Christ in the multi-ethnic church of Antioch (Jews, Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Asians) who were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26) and who took the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world (Acts 13:1-3). The Greco-Roman world stood in awe of the people who formerly hated each other because of ethnic distinctions, who now loved each other as family and worshiped and served together in the name of Jesus. They knew the members of the church of Antioch were disciples of Christ because of the way they loved one another (John 13:35).

Too many white American evangelicals fail to do justice to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Bible, particularly as it relates to the role of black Africans in the biblical narrative. The pictures of Jesus that the dominant white evangelical culture hangs in churches and in their homes look extraordinarily like a white man who could've been born in the heartland of America. Thus, white evangelicals also tend to read their Bibles as if it tells a white Western story. When we re-create Jesus and the biblical story in our own image, we ignore the gospel implications for how we are to understand racial and ethnic diversity as a cruciform community.

Misreading the Bible as a white Western story also creates an unwitting white Messiah, and paternalistic attitude toward living out the demands of the gospel in our churches. This imperialistic ethos rightly turns off our non-white brothers and sisters in Christ. Without any conscious intent to do so, white evangelicals often communicate that living out the gospel means absorption into white evangelical culture. In my experience, black evangelicals have been far more willing to humble themselves and learn from white evangelicals than the other way around. Often well-intentioned social ministry in our white evangelical churches proceeds with an aura of evangelical aristocracy, albeit a benevolent one toward needy ethnic people.

In places where racial and ethnic diversity is celebrated in the church rather than tolerated, the goal of Christian colorblindness is rejected. Our differences are now seen in Christ, as markers of God's expansive providential grace. The gospel does not erase our cultural, racial and ethnic distinctions, but rather reinterprets every aspect of our story in light of the gospel story (Rev. 21:24). The Christian community trades ethnocentricity for Christocentricity and is liberated to celebrate the breadth and length, height and depth of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:14-21).

When a congregation positions itself as simply tolerant of things like racial diversity, interracial marriage and transracial adoption, the fault lies with an anemic pulpit. Racism is a gospel issue. How many conservative evangelical pastors would be mortified upon hearing about a pastor who refused to speak out against same-sex marriage for the risk of upsetting some people, while they tiptoe around issues related to race and ethnic diversity because they fear congregational reaction? Pulpit cowardice may be a church growth strategy, but it is not a biblically faithful one.

My friend and colleague, Russell D. Moore has said, “Jim Crow is dead. Jesus is alive!” He is right and we need to celebrate that truth in our pulpits. We also need to exorcise Jim Crow’s ghost that tragically still lingers in too many churches. “Separate but equal” was empty rhetoric used to defend cultural racial segregation in the 1950s and 60s. And it still is empty rhetoric when it is used to defend segregated churches today. Pastors, you do not need a platform at the Lincoln Memorial to do something about racial and ethnic segregation today, you already have the gospel and a pulpit.