God Save Us from the Woke Pastor

The skinny jeans. The nonfunctional glasses. The spray tans. The tight muscle shirts. The obscene shopping bill at Nordstrom. And the social justice sermons more fitting for the faculty lounge at Wellesley than for a Bible-believing church. Behold, the Woke Pastor, and he’s gunning for your White Privilege and ready to tackle America’s systemic racism, one vegan protein shake at a time. 

There are myriad examples of the Woke Pastor today, with ministers falling over themselves publicly to prove their progressive bona fides in the wake of George Floyd’s awful death. Let’s focus on two in particular. Both lead megachurches on different ends of the country. Both are considered dynamic preachers with A-list followers. Both are viewed as models by media elites on how to render Christianity “cool” and “relevant” to the unchurched. And both exemplify the disturbing trend among young Christian leaders to align with culture, rather than speak truth prophetically to it.

Judah Smith is the senior pastor at the oddly-named “Churchome,” which is based in Seattle and Los Angeles, and where it is “not uncommon to find the front row reserved for celebrities,” as one publication put it. If you thought that the phrase “All Lives Matter” was both innocuous and conveyed a fundamental axiom that, well, all lives do matter because we are all made in the image of God, and therefore we should condemn racism wherever and through whomever it surfaces, Judah Smith has a message for you: Stop It.

“It is very normal for Caucasian Christians” in this country “to insist that All Lives Matter,” for Caucasian Christians “to insist” that we should “also pray for business owners and police officers.” But, implores Smith, “we don’t need to say that anymore” because “All Lives Do Not Matter until Black Lives Matter.” The circular reasoning here aside, why is a lead pastor, who has at least 10,000 people pack his pews each Sunday and who has even more devotees online, instructing his congregation not to pray for law enforcement and entrepreneurs in the midst of anarchy? What about the black police officers who have been murdered and the black businesses destroyed by those killers and vandals marauding under the Black Lives Matter banner? Do their lives and their livelihoods not matter because of what one rogue cop did in Minneapolis?

Judah Smith didn’t specify. You’ll have to take his word for it.

Woke Sermons calls for Woke Faith.

And both lead to verbal virtuosity.

Judah Smith now has a dedicated page on Churchome’s website boasting of their “commitment to racial justice,” wherein this dubious claim is made: “Churchome recognizes the killing of black people as a national crisis,” noting that George Floyd’s death was not a “standalone situation, but part of the ongoing issue of racism in America.” That assertion is false, as anyone who tracks crime statistics can attest. Unarmed black men killed by police officers didn’t even scratch one percent of the more than 7,000 black homicides in 2018. To the contrary, the vast majority of those homicide offenders were black themselves. These numbers don’t justify what happened to George Floyd, of course, but they do put the incident in perspective.

From Churchome racial justice page

If Smith is truly dedicated to the proposition that “black lives matter,” so much so that he’s instructing his flock not to pray for cops and business owners, where is the righteous indignation over the persistently high crime rates in black neighborhoods that prematurely end the lives of so many young black men and terrorize law-abiding black citizens in the process?

Sadly, it’s far easier to signal your virtue as a Woke Pastor than its to engage in candid dialogues about policing and race relations in America. “We are committed to instituting ongoing training around anti-racism and unconscious bias for our staff,” reads the racial justice page of Churchome, “and to creating spaces for our community to have ongoing conversations for growth and change.” Such anti-bias gestures, while all the rage these days, are meaningless because it is practically impossible to discern another person’s biased intuition. On the other hand, announcing to your congregation that you’re undergoing bias training does make white liberal Christians feel good about themselves because You Did Something, even if that Something involves tacitly accusing your own church leaders of harboring hidden bigotry.

Judah Smith berated his mostly-white audience for their own “ignorance” and unwillingness to “acknowledge what’s happening” around them. “The pain and the chasm between our white brothers and sisters and our black brothers and sisters seemingly couldn’t be wider,” he declared. As the audio of Smith’s sermon aired, the names of black individuals who’ve died allegedly because of racist police encounters appeared on the screen. One of the names included in this video presentation was Michael Brown of the debunked “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” storyline. Just a reminder: Michael Brown, after robbing a local store, punched Officer Darren Wilson in the face, attempted to wrestle away his firearm, and then violently charged at Officer Wilson prior to the fatal shot.

These facts are easily accessible, but first Smith must confront his own prejudice that America’s past transgressions are to blame for the bad choices made by the Michael Browns of today.

Hey, perhaps Judah does need anti-bias training after all.

And a research assistant.

Why is Smith locking arms with the virulently anti-Christian “Black Lives Matter,” a radical group that seeks to, in their words, “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”? That aim became abundantly clear with the recent “Black Trans Lives Matter” march in Brooklyn, New York.

On the opposite end of the country is Carl Lentz, the lead pastor of Hillsong NYC, a trendy megachurch that GQ dubbed the place where “the cool kids spend Sunday morning after Saturday night at the club.” In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Lentz interviewed Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas to address what Lentz called the “incomprehensible lack of awareness” from whites “across Christendom.” In an attempt to suck-up to Bishop Jakes, who is black, Lentz pledged that exposing systemic racism is the “hill we got to die on.” Predictably, Lentz denounced his own “white privilege” and accused “religious white people” of incorrectly rendering the phrase “antagonistic.”

Lentz defined said privilege as an “acknowledgment that our world is uneven,” most notably with the unequal starting points for white and black children. “I’ve been saying it. My church is tired of me saying it.” Unfortunately, he neither got around to illustrating the egalitarian utopia where children, even of the same race, are born into exactly the same station in life, nor did he explain how assigning value and experience to millions of people solely based on their skin color wasn’t an exercise in the same racist stereotyping that he seeks to eradicate.

Lentz did, however, reveal the nefarious force keeping black Americans down in 2020: Home Alone. Yes, the 1990 Macaulay Culkin hit movie. Lentz apparently has trained his kids to do diversity head counts while watching films. In fact, he could hardly contain his excitement in relaying the story to Bishop Jakes of the time his daughter asked him why “Home Alone” was called an “American Classic” when there aren’t any black characters? Shouldn’t it be called a “white classic” instead, she insisted? “I stood up,” Lentz recalled, and said, “you’re exactly right,” clapping his hands as a proud dad. Now Lentz’s daughter admonishes her classmates for watching the “white classic” around Christmastime.

Woke Theology produces Woke Disciples.

Rather than enjoying a movie for the acting, storyline, family time, and the accompanying big bucket of popcorn, Lentz has instructed his children to place a premium on the racial makeup of the cast in order to judge a movie’s quality. Such thinking is a complete repudiation of the civil rights movement, which was premised on viewing and evaluating people as individuals first. Now Woke Pastors are bragging that they take race into account, even in an industry where there’s no shortage of inspiring black actors to look up to.

The Woke Pastor preaches Woke Atonement.

“If you’re a white family watching right now, you may be thinking, we might have some racism embedded in us from generations,” and you say, “No more,” Lentz exclaimed to the Hillsong NYC community. He proceeded to ask Bishop Jakes for tips on absolution. “There has to be a shift,” Lentz demanded, “where people start holding themselves accountable.” Lentz said his white church members need to be “free” from the spiritual “bondage” they find themselves in for refusing to admit their position of “privilege.” Anything short of fully embracing the Woke Great Awakening is dismissed as “racial modification behavior,” he added. “You’re still a racist.”

These conversations are “uncomfortable” and “hard to hear,” Lentz warned his church, but they’re necessary steps to take or else we will remain “complicit” in perpetuating racist behavior.

This phony tough talk, presented under the rubric of an uncomfortable conversation, is where the Woke Pastor reveals himself to be a total fraud. We live in an age where people are getting fired for saying “All Lives Matter,” where pressure is applied daily on social media to conform to stupid stunts like #BlackOutTuesday, and where you can’t even pay your Internet bill without getting lectured to about fighting “racism, injustice, and inequality” with promises to “accelerate our diversity and inclusion efforts” (Comcast). What the Woke Pastor seeks isn’t “uncomfortable” at all. He’s swimming with, not against, the current. 

If the Woke Pastor truly desired an uncomfortable conversation on racism, he’d preach on the 247 black babies murdered every day at abortion clinics. That’s a real-life genocide happening right before us. Yet the same Woke Pastor doing his best Al Sharpton impression on a bullhorn for George Floyd, will give Planned Parenthood a pass. Standing mute on this abomination is even more indefensible because Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a nasty racist who viewed eugenics – eugenics (!) – as the solution to assuage racial tension.

Why does the Woke Pastor never discuss, during an uncomfortable conversation, the obvious reason why there is a higher police presence in black communities than in other neighborhoods: the significantly higher crime rates.

Why does the Woke Pastor, during an uncomfortable conversation, ignore the interracial violence that is lopsided in one direction? Seems important, if we’re getting to the bottom of racial perceptions and stigmas.

Why does the Woke Pastor, during an uncomfortable conversation, overlook the fatherless black homes at the heart of so many socio-economic disparities? The poverty rate of these broken families registers at a whopping 37 percent, yet that same poverty rate shrinks down to five percent when both parents are together and working.

Why does the Woke Pastor omit, during an uncomfortable conversation, the reliable “institutional engines of black men’s success,” which include, not just marriage, but the military, church attendance, and a “strong sense of personal agency”? Black men who engage in these institutions and who don’t view themselves as victims will, more often than not, enjoy a middleclass life or higher, one detailed study concluded.

These facts, no doubt, would be “uncomfortable” to share and “hard to hear,” as Lentz likes to say, yet the Woke Pastor conspicuously avoids them because the political risk is far too great.

The Woke Pastor’s heart may be in the right place. People are hurting, and there are black congregants who view what happened to George Floyd as a representation of what it means to be black in America. Even if those feelings aren’t tethered to reality, it is the job of a pastor to walk alongside a person’s journey and speak to his emotional pain and anxiety. At the end of the day, however, healing must be grounded in truth. If not, what’s the point? And why go to a church? Just talk to a psychiatrist.

Denouncing racism isn’t exactly a “bold” move, but because the Woke Pastor dutifully regurgitates progressive dogmas that America is a hostile place for minorities, he racks up Instagram “likes” with the clueless Zoomers and gains media approbation with the MSNBC types. The Woke Pastor convinces himself that he’s gaining influence with the cultural gatekeepers, while the opposite is taking place: the cultural gatekeepers are influencing him.

A CNN reporter recently asked Lentz if he could see himself ever having a “different view on abortion or a different view on same-sex marriage?” His answer: “Anything’s possible.” Two years earlier Lentz was asked by Joy Behar on The View if abortion was sinful. Lentz responded, to wild applause, that “people have to live to their own convictions.” Lentz later clarified that he does believe abortion is sinful, though he desires not to “cast further shame and guilt on those” who’ve terminated a pregnancy.

Evidently, he reserves that type of shaming for white people.

Before Judah Smith got matching tats with Justin Bieber, he decried abortion as the “murder [of] innocent lives in the womb” and bluntly labeled homosexuality a sin, similar to “living with your girlfriend,” among other vices. The feminist magazine Marie Claire asked Smith if he still ascribes to those beliefs. He sheepishly responded through a publicist: “We have grown significantly in the past 15 years. I wouldn’t agree with my approach when I was a young pastor on many issues and understand that no life decision is easy.” 

Woke Pastors aren’t interested in uncomfortable conversations. They’re interested in playing it safe. And when Nordstrom has a sale.

Jason Mattera is a New York Times bestselling author and Emmy-nominated journalist. Follow him on Twitter @JasonMattera.

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