Dr. Voddie Baucham, senior pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, doesn't believe that society is inherently racist — and he takes issue with the so-called lionization of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, unarmed African American men who died at the hands of police officers during unrelated incidents this year.
"For me when I look at this … one of the things that we have to keep in mind is the fact that Eric Garner, Mike Brown — they were not Martin Luther King Jr. They were not," Baucham said at a panel event Tuesday night. "There is a difference. There is a distinction between individuals who are living lives that represent what we are fighing for and individuals who [represent] lives that we are trying to rise above."
Image source: Kainos
He was part of a diverse pool of pastors who came together for "A Time to Speak," an event focusing on racial reconciliation that was held at the historical Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee — the location where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.
The panelists tackled contentious subjects with a respectful tone during two separate, hour-long sessions, even as they debated some of the finer details surrounding the concept of white privilege, race relations and the proper role of churches in tackling reconciliation.
While some participants openly decried the system for perpetuating unfairness and inequality among the races, Baucham didn't place predominant blame on social structures.
The preacher went on to say that when people simply assume that there was injustice like many have in the case of Brown's death, it creates division, which he said is "part of the problem."
Pastor Matt Chandler (read our profile of him) of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, though, encouraged Christians to put themselves in others' shoes, decreeing the "inability or an unwillingness for [his] Anglo brothers or sisters to consider what it’s like to be in the 13 percentile of American society."
Chandler, who has spoken openly about his views on racial reconciliation, said he was surprised to see so many people express frustration over the #blacklivesmatter hashtag that went viral in the wake of the deaths of both Brown and Garner.
He added that he believes the Bible shows how the privileged class tends to "suppress or oppress."
In the second panel discussion, Dr. Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offered up his take on when he believes there will be true evidence that racial reconciliation is afoot.
"You’ll know when black and white racial reconciliation is beginning to take root when a large number of whites can sunmit to black leadership, and not feel the need to be an authority with them to check their leadership," he said.
He also reminded the audience and his fellow panelists that it's essential to remember that spiritual warfare is the real issue and that believers aren't wrestling against "flesh and blood" when confronting these issues.
Like many of their fellow panelists, Pastor John Piper, who runs the group Desiring God, and Derwin Gray of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, focused in the second panel on the importance of the Bible and scripture to solving the issue of racial reconciliation.
"I want to start from the Bible [and] end with the Bible," Piper said, urging his fellow preachers to address race regularly with congregations.
The gospel, he said, requires that believers seek reconciliation and truth.
"It mandates that Christians speak truth into these situations that we’re dealing with right now," Piper said, noting that the Christian gospel gets specific enough to even help police officers find ways to disarm criminals without killing them in the process.
Gray said he believes that Christians have allowed a racialized culture to impact them more than they have Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether the cause of divisiveness is white privilege or a fallen, sinful nature, he said he wants to see a biblical response.
"The church itself has allowed racialized culture to influence us more than the Christ. What I want to hear is a blood-soaked solution that Christ is our peace, that He broke down dividing walls," he said. "That's what I want to get to because I believe there's a resurrected king who is the solution. … My blackness does not define me, my Christ-ness defines me."
Watch the event in its entirety here.