And the #1 Reason Why the 21st Century Church Struggles Is . . .

(. . .  I’ll get to that.)

I wrote yesterday about the problem of greed in our congregations and while I indeed believe that greed destroys our mission as followers of Christ, there is a larger issue destroying our mission and it encompasses greed.

But first, what do you think?

What would you say is the #1 reason why the 21st Century Church is struggling and by “Church” I’m talking about everybody from the Southern Baptists to the progressive formerly “Mainline” denominations to the Roman Catholics to the Orthodox denominations in the United States.  Is our biggest issue:

  • Secularization?
  • A lack of “young people”?
  • Obsolescence?
  • A lack of commitment?

The Rev. Lenny Duncan is an African American pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (Apparently the Lutherans are even whiter than the Presbyterians.)  He suggests an even bigger issue: White Supremacy.

Duncan has written Dear Church – A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. that spells our what he (and I) believe is the #1 issue for all predominantly white congregations in the United States.

We must dismantle, destroy, and bury white supremacy. In this nation. In our pews. In our liturgies. As a church, as a people, and as Christians, this is our call in the twenty-first century.

The evil of white supremacy is so entrenched in our culture that we don’t even see it.  We picture KKK members or those guys with the Tiki torches in Charlottesville when someone says “white supremacy.”  But the fallout has settled upon every one of us.  And it shows up everywhere:

  • We congratulate ourselves when people of color join our congregations where we welcome them heartily as long as they sing and pray like we do.
  • We plan mission projects for “the needy” but rarely do we develop deep, lasting relationships that help us understand the perspectives of people Not Like Us white people.
  • We might have Bible studies or book studies that challenge – but not too much.  We don’t want to be too uncomfortable.
  • We use words like “plantation” or “picnic” or “states’ rights” without considering what those words might mean to people of color.
  • We say “that’s just the way things are” when discussing racism or poverty, forgetting that Jesus taught us to pray and work so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  
  • We fail to support people of color in seminaries and we fail to support our historically African American congregations as readily as we will support white seminarians and our own white congregations. (The lack of generational wealth in our culture is, of course, a consequence of slavery.)

Duncan writes that “there will be no recognizable Lutheran witness in this country in fifty years if we don’t participate in this work. Period.”

The same could be true for my denomination and for yours.  And this is not about perpetuating our denominational institutions.  This is about living out the message of the Gospel.  This is about following Jesus.

God has blessed the United States with an increasingly diverse population.  Some of our neighbors first came here by choice.  Many of our neighbors came here – historically – in chains.  But God has brought us together and Jesus has a message that requires us to dismantle white supremacy because it is the antithesis of God’s plan for this world.

We white people have had it good.  Even if we grew up poor and broken, it was always better to be white than to be brown or black because this country was made for us.  This is the truth.  The laws, the educational systems, the entertainment industries were all made for us.

White siblings: we have a lifetime of work to do. And if we don’t do it, our churches deserve to die.

We can do better.  We have got to do better.

Note: Here’s a last minute opportunity for some anti-racism training:  Check it out.  And read Lenny Duncan’s new book.

8 responses to “And the #1 Reason Why the 21st Century Church Struggles Is . . .

    • I don’t the word originated with lynchings but it became associated with lynching in the early 20th century. Was just in the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte yesterday and someone brought this up in the lynching exhibition.


  1. Have you seen any of the PBS shows about NASA the last two nights? Racism and sexism are blatant, along side white supremacy.


  2. I’m all for thinking carefully about my language, but I believe you are off about the roots of the word “picnic.”


  3. Why do African Americans appear to be the only “people of color” addressed in the essay?


  4. Hi Jan.
    Thanks for your wisdom and challenge. A related reason churches are dying is because people tend to think of church as a place to go to have an experience rather than a group of people who come together to help each other live out a transformational life. And, transforming racism etc is a big part of that. Too many people look at “church” as an entertainment option.


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