“Can Evangelical Christianity Be Redeemed?
John MacArthur’s Racial Insensibility
and His Disregard for Black Humanity and Dignity”
On Sunday, June 7, 2020, prominent Evangelical leader and pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, located in Sun Valley, California, delivered a powerful sermon at his home church entitled “Who’s to Blame for the Riots?” His basic objective was to provide an analysis on the recent events happening nationwide; more particularly, he was concerned about the protests and strategies of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the sermon, MacArthur made references to four major passages in the Bible to condemn street protesters, street rioters, and those who are marching for justice and life in the American streets. The supporting texts include Isaiah chapters 1, 5, and 28, and Romans chapter 3. In this post, I will summarize the key points in MacArthur’s sermon; the format to be followed is bullet points.
• In the sermon, he directly blames the individuals who are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly those who are protesting and rioting in the streets.
• He characterizes them as “lawless mobs of criminals attacking the police.”
• He states that the police are put in a state where they “can’t act to protect property;” nonetheless, “rebel mobs are allowed to destroy it.”
• He continues by noting, “You can’t shop in a store, but you can loot it. You can’t work, but you’re free to steal. You can’t attend church, but you can burn it down. You can’t eat in a restaurant, but you can demolish it. Now we’re seeing charges being brought in these riots, not against the rioters, but against the police.”
• He calls the protesters those who “worship the god of anger, the god of hate, or the god of vengeance.” In other words, he does not ascribe any human dignity or humanity to those who are risking their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to demand justice and to put an end to police brutality and systemic racism in this society. To put it bluntly, black people are angry, ungodly, and vengeance seekers.
• For MacArthur, these individuals not only hate this country, they also hate the Police force. They are seeking vengeance because they’re ungodly, that is, they are not Christians, according to MacArthur’s definition of Christianity. Interestingly, the street protesters included both evangelical and non-evangelical Christians from all racial, class, and economic background; there were also other members of the Christian clergy, and other individuals and ministers belonging to non-Christian religious traditions marching for national justice, internal peace, and the respect of human rights in this country.
• MacArthur did not make a distinction between street rioters and street protesters. Everyone falls under the same category, MacArthur’s non-Christian category.
• He argues that the Police are “the protectors of the good and the punishers of those who do evil.” Therefore, to call to abolish the police is a “perverted solution.” He also notes that the police are the ones being insulted and ridiculed. Here, MacArthur seems to prioritize certain lives by undermining other (Black) lives. In other words, by inference, some lives have more values and dignity than others.
• According to MacArthur’s logic, the reasons street protesters are protesting police brutality, systemic racism, and the violations of Black rights in the United States has nothing to do with education, not even the economy. He reiterates that it is not even “a problem of social inequity.” In other words, MacArthur denies three major issues in the American society in regard to the Black experience: (1) the denial of economic inequality or wealth (mis-) distribution, (2) the denial of social inequity, and (3) the denial of the problem of inclusion and the misrepresentation of Blacks and people of color in the nation’s education system and higher learning.
• MacArthur infers that that proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and the street protesters are individuals “without a conscience.” They are “criminals [who have] become heroes.” By contrast, the police as “the real heroes” are vilified because everything is upside-down” in society.
• He continues by observing that the reasons Black people and others are protesting is “not related to a lack of opportunity. It’s not related to a lack of money. It’s not related to a lack of privilege, a lack of education.” Once again, MacArthur denies three other important factors in respect to the experience of Blacks/African Americans and people of color in society: (1) he denies white privilege, (2) he fails to acknowledge that white people have more privileges and opportunities than people of color in the American society, and (3) he undermines that white people have more educational power and influence than Blacks and people of color in this nation. For MacArthur, there are no systemic problems or structures in place in society that privilege whites or people of European descent in this country.
• Furthermore, MacArthur calls street protesters and those associated with the Black Lives Matter movement as “people [who are] opposing God.” He underscores his personal conviction by stating, “I don’t care what their ideological issues are. I don’t care what it is that they think is unfair or unjust.” In other words, he is encouraging injustice and unfairness toward Blacks and African Americans, and people of color. Thus, these populations should not fight against mistreatment and racial justice. This is a radical misunderstanding of the doctrine of divine providence in society through the established government.
• Therefore, he could infer that to oppose police brutality, anti-black racism, systemic racism in the American society is “opposing the authority that God has ordained, and they are opposing God.” To put it bluntly, Blacks and people of color in this country should keep their mouths shut and swallow whatever they give them. They have no rights to resist oppression and state-sponsored violence toward them, no rights to defend their humanity and dignity, and they have no rights to claim their right to exist by opposing racial injustice and bigotry toward them. To act otherwise is to sin again God himself.
• Within the same line of MacArthur’s reasoning, the protesters who are countering police violence “have opposed the will of God.” Because of that, they “will receive condemnation upon themselves. God keeps accounts; you don’t get away with it.”
• As he states boldly, “Resistance to authority is rebellion against God, not only government. Resistance should be, must be punished; and when it is punished, they are doing the work of God. This is why there’s a justice system. This is why it’s so horrendous when we don’t trust the FBI, we don’t trust the Justice Department, we don’t trust the people who have that power.” This is destructive theology at best, and a theological system that promotes abuse and injustice toward the weak and the racialized other.
• Finally, for John MacArthur, Black people and people of color who have been mercilessly targeted and even killed by the police is consequential of their own actions, including their failure to “maintain good behavior” and “to fear (of) authority,” appointed by God himself. This is another form of imperial and neocolonial theology, folks. It must be rejected and combated with sound thinking and liberative ideas. This is a theology that destroys black life and postpones black future possibilities. Here are the direct words from MacArthur, “Things happen in arrests. Things happen, conflict with the police. You don’t need to fear them if you maintain good behavior. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you’ll have praise from them.”
• John MacArthur closes his long sermon by asking the starting question: Who is to blame for the riot and street protesters? John MacArthur does not provide a direct answer to his initial question. Nonetheless, he does infer that those who are protesting and rioting are the products of “families who [have] failed to raise virtuous, [and] disciplined children in loving marriages.” This is a direct insult on Black families and to all Americans who believe there is something systemically wrong with the way things are in this society.
Words of Conclusion
In his 1 hr. and 18 minute sermon, John MacArthur never addressed the roots and causes of street protesting and street rioting. He never acknowledged the problem of systemic racism, mass incarceration, police brutality toward black and brown people in the American society. He never mentioned the name of George Floyd who was violently lynched by the Minneapolis Police force or Breonna Taylor who was shot aggressively eight times in her home by the Louisville Police force. MacArthur never acknowledged there are structural and systemic issues connecting three related institutions in this country: the Police force, the Judicial system, and the Prison system—leading to black criminality, mass incarceration, and black death. Pastor John MacArthur failed to articulate any theological and moral reasons to hold these institutions and systems morally accountable. In the sermon, John MacArthur never said a word about how injustice has radically transformed the black condition in society nor has he made any allusion to the perilous threat of white supremacy in this nation. He made no reference to the racial trauma and terror intrinsic to the Black experience in the United States nor did he articulate any words of consolation, comfort, and compassion to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and others who are still mourning and undergoing racial suffering. This form of Christianity with no justice and no compassion must be rejected. It’s not worth preserving and it is not liberative, prophetic, and Christ-centered to emancipate Black people and people of color in this nation. Its basic premise is the denial of Black humanity and dignity, and Black rights and future possibilities in this society.