Pastoral Letter 07.01.20
The sixth commandment requires us to do our best to make every lawful effort to preserve our own life and the lives of others. We do this by not thinking about or planning, by controlling our emotions, and by avoiding all opportunities, temptations, or actions that would promote or lead to the unjust taking of someone’s life. In the pursuit of that goal, we must defend others from violence,… we should provide aid and comfort to those in distress as well as protect and defend the innocent.
—Westminster Larger Catechism, Answer 135
By now we’ve all seen the image of George Floyd lying facedown on the pavement while a white police officer kneeled on his neck until he died. As an image, it is grotesque, tragic, and demonic. As a reality, it is all too common in this country and must be condemned outright. Thousands took to the streets to protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and tragically, the many injustices these actions represent. Thousands more have had their eyes opened to the plight of people of color in our country and have begun to examine their own participation in our systems that promise equality but often deliver oppression. Many of you are asking questions, listening, lamenting, and crying out to God for help. As your pastors, we want to provide a brief letter to address our cultural moment and invite conversations. We especially want to care for any people of color who have experienced bias or prejudice within our church in explicit or implicit ways.
As White Christian pastors, we want to begin by acknowledging the sad truth that more often than not the majority church in our country, the white church, has not only failed to fight racial injustice, but has promoted it in both active and passive ways. We are deeply sorry that our churches have inadequately discipled people from the Scriptures on these issues, and for the ways in which we have personally contributed to this. The sad truth is that your pastors have been socialized to interact with the world according to a racial hierarchy of white supremacy, and must continually battle our own sinful biases and attitudes. May the Lord have mercy on us and our churches, and grant us ever increasing degrees of repentance.
God created all humans in his image; therefore all humans equally bear the image of God (Gen 1:26–27, 5:1–2). As image bearers, each and every human is worthy of dignity and honor (Gen 9:6; Jm 3:9; cf. Deut 10:17–19, 21:23; Lev 19:33). It is an indisputable fact that Black, Indigenous, and people of color have been treated as less than human in this country. Sadly, we believe this persists in various forms, grieves the heart of God, and invites his wrath. The more we listen to our colleagues, friends, and neighbors from diverse backgrounds the more we realize the various ways this injustice continues to injure fellow image bearers whom we love. We encourage you to listen along with us and have provided a list of resources to get you started.
In our highly polarized political climate, you may wonder: “Why are my pastors talking about this?” We are talking about this because it is a gospel issue (Gal 3:8; Eph 2:14–17, 3:4–7; Luke 10:36–37; Jm 2:1), and—rather than getting co-opted by partisan talking points—God desires us to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor 10:5).
The New Testament chronicles the gospel’s power to create an uncommon community of people from various ethnicities and walks of life bound by mutual faith in Christ (Ga 3:28, 6:15; Col 3:11; Acts 15:7–11; Rom 3:29, 14:1–21; Phm 16–17; Rev 7:9). Centuries later, we belong to that same uncommon and global community through gospel’s continuing power. This gospel enables us to be honest about our own sins, because we confess the righteousness of Christ, not our own (Gal 2:14–16; Phil 3:7–9). It empowers us to minister to the needs of this broken world by standing against racism now (Gal 2:11–14)
God wants to build an uncommon community here in Santa Barbara—a community bound not by race or ethnicity or party loyalty, but in faithfulness to Christ and his gospel. Friends, this is difficult work, but it is a labor of love. We know this will require that we all become less comfortable in our own preferences in order to make space for others. We will not get it right everytime. We will make mistakes. We will disagree. We will engage in conflict. We will forgive one another. But in our words and deeds we will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of Christ to a world that desperately needs it (Eph 3:6–10).
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. lamented from a Birmingham jail cell that silence and apathy are as great a threat to justice as outright hostility. Addressed to white pastors, he wrote:
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Almost 60 years later, these words still haunt us today. May the church of Christ in America put aside our comfort, our political partisanship, and our pride in order to become agents of justice and unity in an age of outrage and division.
Lastly, a single letter is inadequate to say all that needs to be said. Please join us in this conversation by listening, learning, lamenting, and loving. We hope that this is but the beginning of a longer journey.
Pastor Kyle and Pastor Joshua
Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions, by Anthony Bradley
Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church, Ed by Doug Serven
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Jemar Tisby
Talks and Lectures
Interview with PCA pastor, Alton Hardy:https://youtu.be/Z1jJVYQib_M
Race and the Church: A series of videos by thought leaders in the PCA; https://raceandthechurch.com/videos/