"How do you know if your theology is racist?" Carl Lentz, lead pastor of Hillsong NYC, asked Brooklyn megachurch Pastor A.R. Bernard earlier this month.
Sitting in a comfy sofa chair across from the loosely dressed Lentz in front of a large crowd at the Hillsong NYC conference held at the Barclays Center, Bernard paused briefly then delivered his response.
"Well, let's make the distinction between racist and racism. Racist is a person who has a feeling of superiority above other people by virtue of that person's race," said Bernard, who is the founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York.
"Racism," he explained, "is the intentional violence, oppression, marginalization, disenfranchisement against a segment of the society based on race. So if your theology gives you a sense of superiority over other people, then that theology is racist," Bernard said.
"If you take it to the next step of engaging in acts of violence, whether overt or covert, or marginalization or the support of disenfranchisement and marginalization of a particular people because of their race, then now you have gone from being racist to engaging in racism," he added.
Lentz nodded in quiet approval to the tune of smattering applause. It had taken him nearly half an hour of discussion with Bernard before he was able to ask the question.
Earlier, Lentz explained to the audience that America needed to have more constructive conversations about race in light of the recent racial unrest in the nation.
"Our culture now, if anybody turns on the TV these days, we've got some problems. We've got racial problems, we've got conversations that people don't want to have. In New York City sometimes we are hit with stuff that's front page. But our whole country right now, if we were to describe it, everybody would agree there's a frustration," said Lentz.
"There's a sense of unrest. There are some topics where some people are trying to make it black and white, and I think it's much deeper than black and white. I think racism is a sin issue, and I think one of the biggest problems is there's no conversations happening.
He continued: "So what I wanted to ask you today is what do you think some of the factors are that have led our culture to be where it is today, in this state where it seems more polarized than ever or maybe it's getting more press than ever. Because I know people have been getting on the wrong side of that conversation forever. But what do you think about that? How have we gotten here?" he asked.
Bernard responded: "Something you said is important. It's getting more press."