I’m not athletic and I never have been. Some of the best days for my social status were when I actually achieved something in an athletic competition (e.g. when I won the mini-sandbag throwing competition for my 2nd grade class, when I won an exhibition match for my school’s wrestling team in junior high, etc.). But through eighth grade, most of my involvement in sports was primarily for weight loss. I’m an artsy thinker type, so the little competitive attitude I did have I brought into the field of music. And I did this from mid-elementary school all the way through college.
All throughout my educational years, in jazz band, show choir, singing, spelling, reading, and math events, my competition (that I mainly lost to) was dominantly women and POC. We’re talking about some talented people here. People that went on to become doctors or businessmen in the center of the Twin Cities, opera singers at the Met, producers in Hollywood, etc. all women and POC.
So, the idea that white males, like myself, have a natural advantage or have discovered the only effective keys to success, particularly in the arts, sciences, ministry leadership, business or anything is new to me. Through God’s hand in my life, I’ve been taught to recognize giftedness, work ethic and good character when I see it. As a music composer, God has taught me to respect the dignity of His Creation, as he didn’t “spend more work” on me than anyone else.
All the stuff I’ve seen alleged against ministry leaders over the past few years (including physical actions, circumstances and/or words), I’m still wrestling with. I’m not the perfect pastor, but in my years in full-time ministry, I always followed “The Billy Graham Rule” and have strived to avoid the temptation to abuse the privileges in my job description. And I just don’t think certain jokes, much less say them.
A few years back, I preached on the story of King David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), the story of a king who, while home from the war, noticed a pretty girl (the wife of one of his loyal soldiers) and slept with her. Trying to cover up her pregnancy, he first asked the soldier to temporarily abandon his brothers in arms. When that didn’t work, the king quietly asked someone from his military leadership to let him get killed in the war on the frontline. To cover that up, several soldiers were also sent to the frontline for the slaughter. King David didn’t even know of his own wrongdoing until a prophet had to do a very explanatory rebuke.
The main application of that story, as I had been told, was to flee from sexual immorality. Just don’t do it. But as I looked into the passage and into my own life and experiences, I learned another application that could have helped David. And it was more helpful than just the instruction of controlling one’s hormones: be wary of complacency.
The word "complacent" is defined as:
“pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect”
King David should have been fighting alongside his soldiers. He should have been aware of the danger in which he was putting the entire kingdom by chasing one night’s lustful desire. There are other examples how we could say King David was complacent. But I’ve been complacent, too. And I’m worried that white males of our country’s church leadership are being complacent.
-We’re too pleased with our own academic prowess and theological conservatism that we become unaware of the transcendent beauty of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
-We’re too pleased with our own appearance of righteousness that we’re unaware of our call to justice. (In the Bible, righteousness and justice are the same word).
-We’re too pleased with our numerically-successful ministry models in our business-loving world that we’re unaware of the spiritual and relational faults of our ministry.
Churches led by white males have been going through a storm recently, as leaders have been stepping down in the midst of allegations of sexual misconduct, financial wrongdoing, favoritism, and/or inappropriate comments regarding race and gender. I think this is just the beginning. The Church is more and more visible to our country’s empowered populists, and anyone can know what a church’s congregation and leadership looks like, what its youth pastor eats for dinner, and its Yelp reviews. No longer can any Christian have an opaque wall between his private and public life where the “good actors” can compartmentalize their relationship with God. This is a very seeing world looking, first and foremost, for integrity, grace and compassion, and we (as white male Christians) have just shown them (often hypocritical) moral condescension and/or tried to appeal to them with what we think is snazzy advertising.
Fellow white males in ministry leadership, hear me out. By what many of us have said and done in the past few years, we have really shot ourselves in the feet. As Bible-believing Christians, we believe that God created ALL humans and inspired ALL traditions of His worship, and that everyone has something to bring to the table where they always belonged in the first place. Our white-male-run, 50’s-inspired, conservative and personal-holiness model of ministry is failing. Judging by today’s news, it’s largely scaring women and POC, and judging by statistics, it’s not even reaching white males under the age of 40. Meanwhile, Hispanics will soon be the majority of our country's population, and African-American churches have congregants who have the most biblical beliefs by far (according to a recent report from the Pew Research Forum). Yet many white male ministry leaders still, for whatever reason(s) or lack thereof, seem to think that our modernist Western methods are the universal standard and metric for ministry to the diverse and post-modern world.
We need to acknowledge that our God is not the “white man’s God.” He never was. And we need to, as white male leaders, show humility and respect for women and POC. Consider Philippians 2:1-4, James 1:19, and 1 Peter 2:12. Admit complacency if you need to, before it’s too late.