It turns out that ABC has a sharper moral compass than the Evangelical church in America today.
ABC took a stand against racist hate speech by cancelling the “Roseanne” show, which was making the network a ton of money. In contrast, Evangelical pastors and churches have bowed down to the most blatantly racist American president since Andrew Jackson and have refused to challenge him for fear of losing influence in Washington.
At least that’s how things appear. The reality may be a bit more complicated. Yes, there are the far-right pastors like Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham who have become spokesmen for a lifestyle and agenda they once would have condemned. But I suspect they are a minority. Other pastors and Christian leaders likely fall into two other camps: Those who want to speak but are afraid, and those who have spoken but are wary of preaching to the choir.
Ever since the fall of 2016, pastors across America have been forced to make careful calculations about how to balance pastoral influence against moral duty. While that may sound like a no-brainer, here’s why it’s not: In many contexts, pastors believe they can do more good over the long haul by measuring their words and retaining the ability to move the needle a little at a time. They believe the medicine of addressing racism will go down better — and more effectively — when administered in small doses. They believe a full-on vaccination against racism from the pulpit would backfire and jeopardize the end goal.
There’s another group of pastors who are fully on board with speaking against racism and other moral evils of our time (sexism or immigration, anyone?) but realize they can’t beat this drum every week in every sermon. In some cases, they know they are preaching to the choir, and in other cases they face congregations that are becoming woke but are worn out with processing all the societal and social change.
But the need remains urgent. Roseanne is only one indicator of a deeply rooted problem of racism that remains in American life.
Social scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has written about the deep racism that remains in America. In his best-selling book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, he documents the prevalence of the “n”-word in Google searches. Americans are searching the Internet millions of times a year for this most hateful term — and 20 percent of the time for the purpose of finding “jokes.” Other common Google searches are “stupid n*ggers” and “I hate n*ggers.”
Remember that people tell Google things they won’t confess to others.
Just as people hide behind the anonymity of their Google searches, Christian leaders may hide behind the need to keep a low profile. Even for justifiable reasons.
So why was ABC able to take such a swift and dramatic stand?
Perhaps they were following Mark’s No. 1 Rule of Communications: You’re always better off telling your own story first and shaping the conversation rather than letting someone else tell your story and shape the narrative against you. ABC executives had to know they could continue to kick this can down the road but that there would be a payday someday, and not in the positive sense. The power of social media already was forming dark clouds like a tornado over Oklahoma. The immediate loss of canceling your top-rated show would be harsh, but taking the extended backlash over supporting a racist star would be worse.
And isn’t this the situation the church finds ourselves in today? By our silence, haven’t we allowed the critics of the church to set the narrative about us? By our fear, haven’t we foolishly believed we can save seats in pews today while forfeiting the next generation?
As Jen Hatmaker wrote last week in response to the news of refugee children being separated from their parents at the border: “We are as lost from our own gospel as we’ve ever been while screaming at everyone else that we are the only ones ‘found.’”
Here’s the lesson the Christian church needs to learn from ABC: It is possible — even essential — to take a stand against things that are morally wrong without taking sides between Republicans and Democrats. We are currently hamstrung by the myth that to work against things like racism and sexism and mistreatment of refugees is to take sides on politics. There are some things to which there are not two sides — things the church must condemn as morally wrong whether they are advocated by Republicans, Democrats or independents. To speak against these evils only condemns a political party if that entire party chooses to embrace what is evil.
There is no getting around the absolute truth that racism is a moral evil. This should not be debatable. There are not two equal sides to this question. The church cannot be silent on this and other urgent issues of our time. So why has the Christian community not united against the belittling of disabled persons, the exclusion of persons of color, the mistreatment of refugee children and our nation turning a blind eye to outsiders in life-or-death need?
The answer is simple: Fear. Fear of offending members. Fear of offending donors. Fear of being labeled as “liberal.” Fear of being called “too political.” Fear of losing jobs.
There is another way, and it is one every Christian can live out: Be the presence of Christ. Because actions speak louder than words. Stand with those who are insulted, abandoned, imprisoned, ridiculed, belittled. You don’t have to preach a sermon out loud to put yourself with the “other.” Go, take a stand, weep, comfort, bless, pray, be seen, draw a circle that takes them in.
It is time for the action of Christians to drown out the silence of the church.