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Blog / White Evangelicalism and Racial Bias: An Interview with Bryan Loritts

White Evangelicalism and Racial Bias: An Interview with Bryan Loritts

Bryan LorittsWhat is the experience of a person of color in predominantly white evangelical Christian spaces today? What does the Bible say about racism, ethnic community, and worldview bias? What does it mean for the church to truly live life together?

Bible Gateway interviewed Bryan Loritts (@bcloritts) about his book, Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All (Zondervan, 2018).

What message are you communicating with the title of this book?

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Bryan Loritts: I wrote Insider Outsider as a reminder to readers that when it comes to the church there is no ethnic home team. This was an issue the first church wrestled deeply with in the book of Acts. In fact, the essential message of the first church council in Acts 15 was that when it came to the church, Jews did not have a monopoly on following Christ.

Certainly, white is not a four letter word; however, white evangelicalism has historically functioned as the home team in America, and this has had—and continues to have—profound implications that inhibit true unity in the body of Christ. I show these truths in a hopeful way through my own narrative as a Jesus-loving African American who has spent a lot of time trafficking in white evangelical circles.

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Hard Reality of Exclusivity in White Evangelicalism and What Can Be Done]

What do you mean when you say we all “bring our ethnicity when we approach the biblical text”?

Bryan Loritts: One of the first lessons I learned in a class on how to study the Bible when I was in college (taught by my professor who just happened to be white), was that none of us approaches any text of Scripture completely unbiased. That’s impossible. We all bring our own worldviews, biases, and presuppositions—all of which have been shaped profoundly by such things as our ethnicity.

For example, as an African American I’m acutely aware that Moses married a black woman, that Jesus lived as an immigrant in Africa, and that Daniel experienced racism in corporate Persia.

It’s impossible to disrobe my blackness when I come to the text, just as it’s impossible for one to disrobe their whiteness, Hispanicness, etc. This should lead to us doing theology in community, so that our biases are exposed, and that we can actually illumine one another in our quest to mine the meaning of a passage.

Not to belabor the point, but here in America we live in a hyper individualized society, so we carry this with us when we read God’s Word. But the Bible was written to and among a people who were much more communal. So much of the disconnects we have in the West with a given periscope can be overcome when we do theology with those who have a more communal worldview.

What do you mean that this book challenges the accent of white evangelicalism and not the language it speaks?

Bryan Loritts: In Insider Outsider, I use the metaphor of an accent to explain how each of us carry theological biases. We all have an accent, but the challenge is most of us are not cognitively aware of our accents.

I think I talk normal, and when I encounter people with accents there’s often the thought that they talk different, not realizing they’re probably thinking I talk different. So, for example, if a Vietnamese person came to the states and spoke English, I would say they talk really different, and I may even make some ignorant assumptions about them. But if I went to their country and spoke in Vietnamese with my American accent (seems so strange to even say “American accent”), they would make the same assumptions about me. Accents tend to be judged by the home team.

There’s a theological accent known as white evangelicalism, which colors the way they see Christianity. It tends to be hyper-individualized, a low view of systemic injustice, a high view of vertical truth, etc. There are great things about the accent and not so great things, which is true of everyone’s theological accent. My book deals with the accent—the perspectives, implications, biases—and not the language (the substance). In other words, I’m not critiquing the Bible, but the way the Bible has been articulated (the accent) historically by white evangelicalism.

Why are genuine multiethnic relationships rare? Why are they important?

Bryan Loritts: Humanity is historically tribal. The disciples were a bit queasy on their field trip to Samaria. Peter withdrew from eating with Gentiles by returning to the Jewish table. And in America, a nation whose historic sin is racism, this becomes exponentially true. We carry implicit bias towards each other. The gravitational pull to human relationships is to do life with people who look like you.

Now the reason why multiethnic community is important is because homogeneity actually entrenches our biases. Remember we all carry bias. So if we only do community with people who co-sign on our cultural preferences and norms, those things will never be challenged and only deepened. As a matter of human flourishing, we need to be around people who just see it differently.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours?

Bryan Loritts: I spend a lot of time talking about the effect on the evangelical brand that our president, Donald Trump has had. As an African American man I was very conflicted with Trump’s predecessor, President Obama. I disagreed profoundly with some of his policies, but at the same time I found myself greatly comforted that for the first time in American history I could look at a man occupying the highest office in the land and conclude that he could really sympathize with me. Without critiquing his presidency, I think any semblance of objectivity would lead one to conclude that Donald Trump does not have a reputation for sympathy, and this is wreaking havoc on our nation, widening the divide in some areas.

When we come to Hebrews 4, the writer says of Jesus that he could sympathize with our frailties. Jesus had been tempted in all things, but without sin. I love this. Jesus is God enough to overcome every temptation, yet human enough to relate to mine. It’s as if the writer of Hebrews is saying that to women who’ve been victimized by the male power structures, Jesus says “#Metoo.” To men who struggle with the physiological urgings of their loins, Jesus nods his head in solidarity. And as a fellow incarnational minority, Jesus stands with people of color, wrapping an arm around us, knowing exactly how it feels to be belittled and pillaged of ethnic dignity. I find this deeply encouraging!

But, what’s even more telling is the writer links the sympathy of Jesus to his incarnation. Yes, I need to be careful not to imply that Jesus was devoid of sympathy prior to the incarnation, but a fair reading of the text shows the connection between the sympathy of Jesus and his voluntary restricting of certain expressions of his divine privilege when he took on flesh and dwelt among us. Privilege can be an impediment to sympathy. Once Jesus moved into the ZIP code of our everyday-ness, he was able to sympathize and relate to us on a level he did not do before. This is a truth I excavate in the book.

Insider Outsider is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California. He also serves as the President of the Kainos Movement, an organization committed to seeing the multi-ethnic church become the new normal in our world. In addition to these positions, Bryan serves on the board of trustees for Biola University, and is the husband of Korie Loritts, and father of Quentin, Myles and Jaden. He’s been a featured speaker at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, Catalyst and a host of other events. His books include Saving the Saved, Right Color, Wrong Culture, and A Cross-Shaped Gospel.

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Filed under Books, Church, Culture, Discipleship, Interviews