Christians have to stop putting politics ahead of the Gospel to advance racial reconciliation, according to a racially diverse panel at an event held in memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
The MLK 50 Conference, a two-day event held on the 50th anniversary of when King was assassinated, was hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. A Wednesday panel focused on the issue of racial tension in the United States.
Christina Edmondson, dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, talked about the impact of the 2016 presidential election, saying there were "significant consequences" to Donald Trump winning.
"For those of us who wept as a result of it, we didn't weep because we're big fans of the Democrats. We wept because we knew the witness of the Church, not just the national but the global witness of the Church, was at stake," said Edmondson.
Edmondson's comments echo those of DesiringGod.org founder and Pastor John Piper, who in a November 2017 message said that he believed white evangelical support for Trump was harming minority outreach.
Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, who was also part of the panel, called on churches to focus on "the politics of Heaven" over "the politics of this Earth."
"You can win an election, but it's gone in four, eight, 10 years," said Sanchez. "We must build a foundation of the Church on Jesus Christ, on eternal materials."
"Those churches that are building on worldly, political ideologies, it's going to be wood, hay, and stubble. And those pastors may be saved, but they're going to smell like smoke."
Sanchez noted that his comment on partisan pastors smelling like smoke was an allusion to 1 Corinthians 3:15, which says in part that a builder "will be saved, but only as through fire."
Justin Giboney, a Democratic political strategist and founder of the AND Campaign, explained that he believed that the 20th century Republican Party's "Southern Strategy" was still harming race relations.
First perfected by former President Richard Nixon, the Southern Strategy involved appealing to white Southern Democrats, often by expressing opposition to Civil Rights goals while not being overtly racist.
"I don't believe that white evangelical leaders, civic leaders, and also politicians, have ever truly divested themselves from the Southern Strategy," Giboney commented.
"I think they still believe they need the racists' support, funding, votes to win. And so as long as they feel they need that to win, it's going to be hard to come together."
Author and NFL player Benjamin Watson was also on the panel. Collin Hansen, author and editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, served as the moderator.
On the first day of the conference, prominent evangelical leader Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, gave a keynote speech in which he drew a parallel between America's struggle for racial equality and the ancient Israelites being told to choose between serving God or serving Baal.
"Time and time again, when told they could not serve both, the people of God tragically often chose to worship Baal but to rename him God," said Moore.
"And time and time again, in the white American Bible Belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow, because you cannot serve both, and tragically, many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ."