Racism, sexism, inequality and oppression are common cultural themes and are therefore discussed in our churches. From my limited perspective, there are two primary responses to these injustices from those who identify as victims.
In the first approach, people respond by affirming the injustices but also recognizing their relative insignificance. Sure, my mostly-white church doesn’t spend much time talking about the racist slave-owning that many of our puritan spiritual heroes took part in, even though they regularly quote them. It would be nice to at least have some mention of this elephant in the room. But, by and large, white people treat black people like white people and vice versa. There isn’t any racism happening today in my church. My pastor is against slave-owning and racism, even if he doesn’t say so explicitly when quoting Jonathan Edwards (who owned slaves).
In my opinion, this is a position of grace. We can recognize where there is room for improvement, but we utilize what is called a “judgement of charity” and are very slow to assume that the pastor is racist because he never talked about how Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.
The second approach is to recognize the lack of denunciation of the racism that took place in ages past by assuming it is because the person not saying what we might wish is indeed racist. It is to do the opposite of the above. It is to assume that the pastor who doesn’t mention Jonathan Edward’s slave-owning is a racist. This line of thinking takes many forms today. Often it is focused on the lack of speaking out against racism (as mentioned above). Or, it can be centered on the cultural structure of a church. In the latter scenario, a person sees a predominantly (or solely) white church governmental structure and assumes the lack of “color” on the elder board is due to racism.
Now this lack of a judgement of charity in which people assume their spiritual leaders are racist because of the color of their board members (all white) or their lack of mention and condemnation of racism. They might even go so far as to see predominantly “white” music as implicitly racist (i.e. they are making me feel unwelcome with this song selection). This is not a position of grace.
The second approach assumes the worst in someone and it is not the method laid down for us in Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:19-22, Paul instructs the church to refuse to even hear a claim made against a pastor unless there are two to three witnesses. He gives this instruction to avoid the slandering of church leaders that has taken place since ages past. Paul knew people would be claiming that pastors sinned without any evidence. He goes on to say that the church should “keep these rules without prejudging” and that they should not show “partiality.” In a word, we ought to practice charity when evaluating our spiritual leaders. We should not “prejudge” them and assume they are racist because of what they don’t say, or because of the color of their board members, or because of the songs they sing.
Of course, if a person in spiritual leadership uses the “N-word” to describe anyone, for example, he should be immediately removed from leadership since his actions provide evidence (hard data, verifiable proof) that his heart is harboring hate for God’s people. If, on the other hand, you’ve never heard him renounce Jonathan Edward’s practice with slave-ownership even though he quotes him in sermons, perhaps you should buy him a cup of coffee and talk to him about it.
Or, you could launch a Twitter tirade and call him a racist. #woke