During a question and answer session at a North Carolina ministry conference on Wednesday, John Piper addressed some guidelines for how the church can discuss the topic of race and ethnicity while still exampling the Gospel well.
"Stay at the table when the conversation is happening, which means for the rest of your life," Piper told Advance13 attendees and those watching via Internet livestream. "The most sad development is to watch people make an attempt in racial harmony, get hurt, and walk away."
Those seeking racial harmony and diversity should know they're going to "get beat up" regardless of how they approach the topic, said Piper, though they should resist the urge to quit when they do get hurt.
The topic was raised in part because of a recent controversy over the book, Black and Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America by Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho.
Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Fellowship Memphis in Tennessee, decried the book in a blog post earlier this month. He said the text is racially insensitive because of its suggestion that, instead of letting "radical abolitionism" lead to the freeing of slaves through the bloodshed of the Civil War, it would have been better to patiently wait for the spreading of and obedience to the Gospel to subvert the institution of slavery in the United States.
Thabiti Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands, became involved in the discussion about the book when asked by a Twitter follower what he thought about retorts to the book from Loritts and Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College.
"I think they're both correct to drop the heaviest hammer on such foolishness," Anyabwile said in a two-part tweet from March 8. "I don't think a credible way to defend slavery exists."
The controversy set the backdrop for Piper's discussion on Wednesday, in which the desiringGod.org founder and author of Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian avoided taking a side on the issue because, he said, he thinks "adjustments" need to be made on both sides. He also stated he had not yet read all of the back-and-forth blog posts between Wilson and Anyabwile.
"I'm not going to make anybody happy," he said. "I'm going to cut it both ways here. I'm going to say to Doug: Think hard, pray hard, think long, go deep before you talk a certain way. And I'm going to say to Brian and the others: Don't be so easily hurt."
Piper, who admits that he was once racist, said he sees a "deep common commitment to the sovereign grace of God that saves sinners" in both Wilson and Anyabwile, and said it was "gratifying" to hear about the way they had addressed the issue.
"I want people to cut him (Wilson) slack and listen to him and learn from him," said Piper. "Call it insensitive, call it whatever you want to call it, and listen and learn. And then I want Doug to listen and learn from Thabiti, who's giving him the best feedback he's ever got, probably, on this issue."
Piper and Loritts were both keynote speakers at Advance13 along with Matt Chandler, David Platt, J.D. Greear and Tyler Jones.