Last week, one of the CNN headlines that captured my attention was written by the network’s religion editor, Daniel Burke: “This is a moment of reckoning on race for white Christians.”

With systemic racism at the forefront of heated debates on police and law enforcement reform, along with enduring socioeconomic disparities in black communities, it is no surprise that racism in the church is being scrutinized.

In his article, Burke includes the CNN interview with Robert P. Jones, author of the forthcoming book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. Jones was raised as a Southern Baptist, and in his book, he examines the history of racism in white churches from the South to the Northeast.

Burke quotes a passage from White Too Long in which Jones maintains that “White Christian churches” have been “complacent” and “complicit” regarding African Americans’ struggle for equality.

This is true to a great extent, but we know that all white Christians cannot be labeled racist. However, I believe that this present moment of racial strife is providing an extraordinary opportunity for white and black churches to finally break down years of racial division.

In a May tweet, Dr. Tony Evans, an African American and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, wrote, “we cannot expect to solve the racial problem in our nation if we do not, and have not, even begun to solve it in the church.”

Evans’ forthright comments come 60 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. passionately called for black and white Christians to worship together during a Meet the Press interview.

This is when King offered one of his most candid quotes: “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America.”

Jones’ book, which I am putting on my to-read list, chronicles a significant era of this tragedy, which, unfortunately, has continued for decades.

His research has a primary focus on the biased attitudes that have remained deeply rooted in many white churches when it comes to social justice, but two of his remarks in his CNN interview stood out to me as the major cause of the racial gulf within the church.

“The scripture passages preached, how people understand salvation, none of that has been deconstructed,” Jones said.

He goes on to assert that theology in white Christian churches is about “personal piety” and anything outside this viewpoint is considered political.

How people understand salvation is vital here because the salvation of Jesus Christ is the core message of the gospel in the New Testament. If churches really “preached Jesus,” as I often heard growing up, those who profess to follow Christ will come to know that personal piety is not the mark of a Christian but rather a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

Titus 3:5 tells us that we were not saved by “works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

The Greek definition of “regeneration” in this verse is a spiritual rebirth, and when you are reborn spiritually, the love of God outwardly manifests in your life. There is no room for the hateful sins of racism and prejudice to rankle the soul.

Being reborn as a Christian also means that you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), so you will not view your brothers and sisters in the church, or anyone else, through a racial lens. The racial divide that has plagued churches in America is basically due to lack of godly love for one another and lack of a true, personal relationship with Christ. 1 John 4:20 clearly explains that we cannot say that we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother, whom we see daily.

I agree with Burke that this is a “moment of reckoning,” but it is one in which the walls of church segregation must begin to come down.

Another major point King made in his Meet the Press interview is that integration was something the church would have to implement. We did not heed his words in 1960. Our current racial crisis is calling us to do so in 2020.

— Jessica Johnson is a lecturer in the English Department at The Ohio State University at Lima. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. Click here for more columns. The opinions expressed are her own.