An Open Letter To Christian Pastors





ampoule times; font-size: 16px;”>Gregory J. Welborn

The events in Ferguson have prompted many pastors to speak from the pulpits about what the church should do to prevent such rioting from occurring again.  Too many of our pastors, though, miss the most important lessons from the Ferguson riots.  The standard theme, evidenced by a sermon I recently heard, is that we, “[the] white guys” have to strive to “understand the pain in the black community” to understand the “rage” in Ferguson with the implication that whites are somehow responsible for this justifiable rage.  This will always lead to the wrong responses from the church community which are actually harmful to the interests of the disadvantaged black and minority communities.

The events in Ferguson are indeed unfortunately too common.  This is not the first time we have seen protests and rioting in a poor black neighborhood.  Whether L.A., Detroit, or Ferguson, the common denominator is black rage.  I vehemently disagree with those pastors who seek to excuse this behavior as inevitable or justifiable for any reason and would point out that it is not a new phenomenon.  Abraham Lincoln said in 1838 that “there is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law”.

I write this open letter to pastors to say that understanding cannot be justification, and that a proper understanding will show us that the church is missing an opportunity to truly help those with whom we claim affinity and a calling.

Young men, of any age or ethnicity, with too much time on their hands and not enough opportunities for productive work is a firestorm waiting ignition.  The question the church should be asking – and then seeking to remedy – is why are there so many young black men without jobs to provide them a sense of earned self-esteem and to keep them busy?  The answer has nothing to do with a white vs. black paradigm.

President Obama recently commented that black students are “far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently”, “far more likely to have been classroomsuspended or expelled”, and “[far less likely] to participate in the labor force”.  Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate for black youths hit 49% in our last recession, has declined to about 35%, but remains twice as high as the rate for white youths.

Christians who view this as evidence of racism miss an opportunity to actually help the black community.  Statistics support the President’s statements and are staggering.  According to the American College Testing organization, administrators of the ACT test, just 5% of black students meet college readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas.  This is the real enemy of black advancement and the cause of black poverty, not racism.  This is the root of riots in Ferguson, Los Angeles, Detroit, and whichever city is next.

If we can honestly hear this, it will point the church toward a real solution.  What young blacks need is a job; to get a job, they need a good education, a strong work ethic and a sense of personal responsibility.  These are the skills and character traits that schools used to instill.  Today, they do not.  Whether it is Ferguson’s, Detroit’s, Los Angeles’, or Pasadena’s schools, the statistics show an unconscionable dereliction of responsibility. The decline in primary, middle and high schools is beyond debate.  It is a national and local tragedy, but not one without solutions, especially for the church.  The church can do at least two things, and if we do those two things well, nothing much more would be needed.

school.choice.1First, as a moral principle, we can walk, rally, agitate, and cajole for school choice and vouchers because they give the inner-city student the freedom to choose a good school, and the competition vouchers spur bad schools to become good.  The church, as a body, is many people strong, and if the call from the pulpit on this cause was anything close to the call voiced for more traditional causes, we would see an unprecedented unity of white and black parishioners, citizenry and voters.  Such a force voicing such a call would command the attention of any politician this side of retirement, and inner-city disadvantaged youths would be given real opportunity for advancement and success. 

Second, in the interim the church could offer education and tutoring services that focus on instilling the basic academic skills while simultaneously developing the character and work ethic so critical to obtaining and keeping a job.  You may be tempted to say that the church does this, but this has not been my experience, or that of many other people who have volunteered in such programs.

My own participation in a church tutoring program mimics what I’ve heard from other volunteers.  I witnessed apathy toward academic rigor and an emphasis on reinforcing the victimhood of the inner-city minority.  So concerned have we become on “validating” feelings that we provide an excuse for already disadvantaged kids to give up against a system which we say is determined to keep them down.  In my training session, I was told we would have to “help the students understand the systemic racism they faced and accept the fact that it wasn’t going away”.  I also witnessed a staff member telling a junior high student that “whites hate blacks”.

It shouldn’t take a genius to realize that reinforcing the image of victimhood while simultaneously failing to emphasize the self-discipline required to acquire the skills needed for success in life will only perpetuate the problem facing too many blacks and other minorities.  But our obsession with validating feelings has lead the church to just such a spot.

If the church wants to help those who are disenfranchised, the church should get serious about calling out those leaders who allow the present education system to continue, demanding that inner-city kids be given real academic choice, and then stepping in to teach kids the real skills they’ll need to get that job, and keep it.

About the author:  Gregory J. Welborn is a freelance writer and has spoken to several civic and religious organizations on cultural and moral issues.  He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 3 children and is active in the community.  He can be reached [email protected]


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