Pointing to the miseducation of whites on black America as one reason behind enduring discrimination, Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, called on white pastors to help fight against it from their pulpits.
Making no apologies for leading a predominantly white church which he loves because that's where God called him, Chandler explained at the "MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop" in Memphis, Tennessee, Wednesday morning that he was concerned about some of the inconsistencies among his God-fearing flock when it comes to racial issues.
"If I preach the sermon out of the book of Isaiah on justice, my inbox would fill with their glee that I would broach the subject. But if I applied it to the subject of race, then all of a sudden I was a Marxist or I've been watching too much of the liberal media. If I spoke on abortion, I was applauded as courageous, as a ferocious man of God, and yet when I would tackle race I was being too political," he said.
"If I quoted the great reformer Martin Luther ... never did I get an email about his blatant anti-Semitism. But let me quote the great reformer Martin Luther King Jr., and watch my inbox fill with people asking me if I'm aware of his moral brokenness," he added.
"I think there is a cascading effect and it starts with ignorance. ... They don't know what they don't know and they are part of a system that encourages their not knowing," he said, taking aim at America's education system.
He then explained that he's a product of public schools and so are his children. He said he reached out to a group of about 30 of his white male and female friends and asked them what they learned during black history month and their responses were found wanting.
"Among the 30 plus men and women starting at age 12 all the way up to 60, I was given seven names: Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, Malcolm X. If this is all we know, then intellectual, creative, innovative African-Americans are anomalies. They are not normal. These brothers and sisters, they are outliers, they are not who I should come to expect in my interactions with African-Americans," he explained.
He noted that there was nothing about the great migration and other issues that would explain the African-American experience such as housing discrimination. He also pointed to how he was educated about Africa in public school.
"They would lead me to believe that Africans were just running around in the jungle, with no homes, cities, architecture or culture. They are wearing leaves, have spears. They are basic and uneducated. I am not taught about their architecture or engineering, although I will be taught about pyramids but we want to make sure that northern Africa is not the same as Africa," he said.
"There is nothing about how the majority of white men and women are educated that would lead us to believe that Africans and African-Americans are intellectual, innovative or creative except a couple a y'all in sports or entertainment," he said.
On the subject of racism, he noted that a lot of what white America is taught is that "racism is unleashing dogs and spraying with hoses."
"There is a seed of doubt sown in the minds of whites that blacks have a work ethic with a capacity to help us. It's why even when white men and women of good heart engage, it can oftentimes come across as paternalistic, that y'all need our help," Chandler told the multiracial crowd at the conference.
"I have lost count of the number of young, gifted, godly, beautiful, African-American, Latino, Asian church planters who have tried to partner with white churches, who are trying to do the things that we have heard from this stage. And to be treated like children. Not co-laborers. I can only imagine how such an education to quote King 'helps creates ominous clouds of inferiority in the mental skies of African-Americans,'" he said.
He noted that there is also miseducation about the role of blacks in the Bible.
"My Christian education seems to have jumped from the book of Acts to the Wittenburg door," he said. "Thomas C. Oden, he said, 'cut Africa out of the Bible and Christian memory and you have misplaced many pivotal scenes of salvific history. It is the story of the children of Abraham in Africa. Joseph in Africa. Moses in Africa. Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Africa."
Chandler noted that it's this ignorance and miseducation that has made it difficult to overcome racial divides. He then called on white pastors to wisely start conversations with their congregations about these issues to help bridge the divide even though he is aware of how difficult it can be.
"White pastors, you have got to say something," he said. "I know what I'm asking. I am not going to be fired for saying these things. I'm not. You might be."
He explained that he lost sleep over making the request of white church leaders, but he knows that without white pastors taking a stand "there is no way forward."
"There is no way forward if white pulpits won't talk. King said rightly in the end that 'we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends,'" Chandler said.