Racial reconciliation is a subject fewer U.S. Protestants seem interested in hearing sermons about, according to a LifeWay Research report published Jan. 12.
Surveying 1,007 Protestant pastors through a combination of phone and online surveys, LifeWay inquired about their congregations’ responses to preaching on racial reconciliation.
When asked if their churches “would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation,” 74% of Protestant pastors in the U.S. said they somewhat (42%) or strongly agree (32%).
This is down from 90% four years ago, when 33% said they somewhat and 57% said they strongly agree.
Notable differences emerged between ministers based on race, with 93% of Black pastors affirming that their churches would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation, compared to 73% of white pastors.
The same trend was seen in response to questions about members requesting sermons on racial reconciliation and members offering negative feedback in response to such sermons.
When asked, “Have leaders in your church urged you to preach about racial reconciliation?” only 21% of Protestant pastors said “yes” in 2020 – a five-point drop from 2016.
Differences again emerged based on the minister’s race, with 44% of Black pastors saying they had been urged to do so, compared to only 21% of white pastors.
In response to the question, “In the last two years, have you received negative feedback for addressing racial reconciliation from the pulpit?” 12% said “yes” in 2020 – up from 5% four years ago.
Fewer pastors had spoken about racial reconciliation from the pulpit in 2020, with 16% reporting they hadn’t done so in the past two years – a six-point increase from 2016. Only 6% of Black pastors had not addressed racial reconciliation during this time period, compared to 17% of white pastors who had not done so.
“The typical pastor is addressing racial reconciliation from the pulpit and without pushback from their congregation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, in a press release accompanying the report. “However, the noticeable increase in pastors avoiding the topic and receiving criticism could signal there are new dynamics emerging.”
The overall margin of error for LifeWay’s survey is plus-or-minus 3.4%. The full report is available here.
Good Faith Media reached out to several Protestant pastors for their reaction and response:
“There has been a sharp rise in racial divisions, ‘other-ism’ and tribalism in our nation, particularly over the last four years. The differences between Black and white churches regarding an interest in racial reconciliation is not surprising,” said Chris Smith, senior pastor of Restoration Ministries of Greater Cleveland Inc. “Unfortunately, Americans have been fed a steady diet from the Trump administration, demonizing American minorities as well as foreigners from Black and brown countries.”
“Sadly, many from the ‘religious right’ have bought into those lies, thus diminishing their willingness to see the need for repentance or to engage in reconciliation and healing,” she said. “This lack of vision is causing many to perish.”
“The importance of preaching on racial reconciliation cannot be overstated,” said Jim Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California. “The centrality of repentance and reparation to the process of reconciliation must be made clear. In this, there is likely to be some discomfort for both the preacher and the congregation. This is as it should be.”
“Preaching on racial reconciliation in the predominantly white church is always precarious, especially in this season of polarized politics. The same sermon will be criticized as being ‘too little, too late’ and ‘too much, too quickly,’” said Chris George, senior pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
“The challenge is to seek and to speak the truth,” he said. “The temptation for some ministers is to avoid the issue entirely and for others to preach at the congregation, but our calling is to walk together and to follow in the footsteps of Christ who is ultimately not only our Great Redeemer, but also the Great Reconciler.”