“Jesus Isn’t White”

Around this time of the year (Ascension and Pentecost), I hear a lot about Matthew 28 and how congregations need to engage more in missions. This is a good thing, I suppose. What’s unfortunate, however, is that white pastors guilt their white members into “discipling” more and reaching out to their ethnic neighbors. The pastor usually draws attention to how “white” the congregation is and how few “minorities” are in the congregation. Then come the statistics.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, the LC–MS is the 3rd most white denomination in the United States (only after the ELCA and the National Baptist Convention). The LC-MS is 95% white. I’ve heard this statistic thrown around quite a lot in my District and even around the Synod. Here are some of the statements I’ve heard from other pastors:

• “Why are we one of the whitest denominations in all of America?”
• “We need to reach the lost, engage in missions, and diversify the Church.”
• “The Reformation was about doctrine; we need a reformation of practice and missions.”
• “We are good at being confessional, but bad at being missional.”
• “What can Lutherans learn from other cultures?”
• “The LC–MS cares too much about doctrine and not enough about people.”
• “Our church is too German.”
• “The LCMS is so white…our President plays the Banjo.” (Okay, I made this one up. But it’s pretty funny.)

Many quote these statistics in order to guilt trip churches to “do” missions. These statements are made to embarrass and shame the LC-MS for being too white. The white folk blush, hang their heads in shame, and carry this guilt for their congregation being “too white.” Apparently, if our churches are mostly white, then we’ve done something wrong because “Jesus isn’t white.” The LC–MS is 95% white. That’s not what Jesus would have wanted, right? That’s not fulfilling the Great Commission, is it?

Well, actually, it is. Why? Because Jesus isn’t white. When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19) He was talking about white people also. Sure, it’s not only what Jesus wants; but, it is, indeed, something Jesus wants. White people are part of the “all nations” in Matthew 28. This means when the church is filled with Germans, Norwegians, Anglo-Saxons, etc., it is a fulfillment of Matthew 28! They are just as much a part of the “all nations/ethnics/Gentiles” as are the Puerto Ricans, Chileans, Dominicans, Japanese, Africans, etc. Lutherans shouldn’t be ashamed that they are 95% white. They should rejoice that the Gospel has reached all nations, including them!

I am not white (although I was born in Elyria, Ohio). My father is a Chilean refugee and a LCMS missionary pastor, and my mother is a Puerto Rican. I love culture. I’m not too fond of American Culture. I don’t really like Casseroles and I don’t really care for the Green Bay Packers. Sorry, not sorry. I don’t like Football; I like Fútbol. I can eat burgers and fries, but I prefer Tostones, Mofongo, and Malta (by Goya™). I’m all for missions. But this white guilt needs to end. I know that I’ll probably be called a “Coconut”(brown on the outside, white on the inside) for saying this. But, I assure you, I am not. I’m not some self-loathing Hispanic who despises his own people and culture, who secretly yearns to become German (although I really do like German stuff, like “Füßbol,” “Bier,” und das Lied, “Du Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen,”).   I’m simply saying that Lutherans need to stop quoting these statistics and shaming the Germans and Scandinavians in their congregations for being German and Scandinavian.

It actually sounds more racist to think that the only way Matthew 28 is fulfilled is if brown people fill the pews. It sounds worse to think that Matthew 28 applies to everyone else…except white people. It’s more racist to think that the ethnics are everyone but white people! Jesus wasn’t German. The disciples weren’t Scandinavians. Right? Matthew 28 includes them in all nations!

Rather than be ashamed that there are so many Germans, Anglo-Saxons, and Norwegians in the churches, we should give thanks to God that His Word has been fulfilled. Pastors shouldn’t hang their heads in shame if their congregations reflect the demographics of their community or country. We shouldn’t look down on churches and the Synod because it is white.

We shouldn’t despise our Lutheran hymnody. Whenever we sing “German hymns,” this is a testimony to Matthew 28! We shouldn’t throw out the Lutheran Confessions because it’s “too German.” We should give thanks to God that He has caused one of these nations/ethnic ones to be so faithful to His Word! I give thanks to God for the diversity He has given to the Church! I don’t really care if a German or Scandinavian wrote the hymns or not. I give thanks to God that it is a beautiful and faithful confession of God’s Word! I sing it with all my heart because their confession is my confession also! Hispanics, Africans, and Asians are all capable of learning this wonderful hymnody. They are capable of learning the Liturgy! They don’t need a different hymnal or liturgy. Lutherans don’t need to be embarrassed by this treasure. We should rejoice that God has worked faith when and where He has pleased through the preaching of His Word. This pure confession is the mission!

I love seeing white people in Church.I’m glad to be a part. I’m constantly reminded that God’s Word has gone out and accomplished the purpose for which it was sent. If that means that the Synod is 95% white, then so be it. It doesn’t mean that the church is failing. It means that God’s Word has succeeded in bringing poor, miserable sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.

About Pastor Rojas+

Rev. Roberto E. Rojas, Jr. is the sole pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as “Zion New Life”) in Winter Garden, FL, established in 1891. He attended the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN (M.Div., 2008-2013; STM., 2013-2014). During his studies at the seminary, he participated in a year-long exchange program in the Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and also in the Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Río Grande do Sul, Brazil. He and his beautiful wife, Erica, are happily married and live in Gotha, FL.


Comments

“Jesus Isn’t White” — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this, Pastor. There are far too many Lutheran who try to project American multicultural virtue-signaling onto Scripture.

  2. Well said Pastor, and you’re right this is that time of year. When folks say that we’re not missional, if they mean that we don’t dress up like Kirk Cameron and assault people with The Gospel on the streets of Santa Monica or in the Mall of America, well then I’d have to say they’re right. That’s not the way that Lutheran’s “do mission”; We do it through our Vocation as fathers, and co-workers and little league coaches. And so we witness The Gospel to the people that we live near and work with and meet on the street. We witness Christ to our Neighbors in our Vocations. What’s so bad about that?

  3. “Jesus isn’t white?” Jesus was Jewish. Have Jews changed color that much? In any case, the color is not important. The command to go to all the world was important. That included those barbarian Germans. Thank God for those early missionaries.

  4. A very thoughtful and well-written article! It’s true, of course that Jesus would have looked like a typical Palestinian male, but because of some century-old U.S. court rulings in favor of Syrian-Americans, he would still be classed as a Caucasian in our current system. (The Obama White House initiated a change in for the 2020 census.) However, the article suffers somewhat because of what I have come to realize is a typical American concept (conceit?), i.e., that racial designation can be, in various degrees, disconnected from cultural background. My Liberian friend, who is a LCMS vicar working with a Liberian congregation, often points out that a full cultural perspective is too often overlooked in an assumption that things like theology, worship practice, etc. as developed based along Northern European lines of thought can be automatically absorbed by other cultures who have widely divergent thought processes. It has echoes of the old practice of making Alaskan aboriginal people learn Norwegian before they could be catechized and Baptized. According to my friend, that is why EIIT is so vital; we need ordained men, who because of their own lineage/nationality, can best address the way in which a given culture processes theological concepts, framing that Northern European theology and practice in a way that can best lead the people of each specific culture into the truth of the Gospel of our Lord. Luther, after all, did teach that it’s OK to be a bit flexible!

  5. Pastor Rojas doesn’t care for the Green Bay Packers? And to think, I’ve received communion from this man! If ever there was proof that Lutherans are not Donatists… 😉

    Thank you for this article, Pastor. Worshiping with your congregation is a highlight of our summer vacations — not because it means we’re spending time with Minnie and Mickey, but because we are given an opportunity to receive Absolution and Holy Communion. That we are able to hear the Word. That we are able to receive these gifts without dependence on our own worthiness, or the color of our skin, the culture of our upbringing, or even the depth of our sin. Continue to proclaim that helpful Law and sweet Gospel.

  6. Thank you for your well-reasoned article. I have to wonder whether predominantly black, Asian, and Latino congregations think they are failing if they do not have “enough” members from different racial backgrounds?

  7. Two things: first of all, the National Baptist Convention is not majority white. It is one of the two major BLACK Baptist conventions. Secondly, and more importantly, while the existence of LCMS congregations that are largely white is simply a circumstance, neither good nor bad, the existence of mostly white LCMS congregations in communities that are the EXACT opposite IS a cause for concern, and not only on Mission Sunday. We are called to Witness – Mercy – Life Together wherever we are planted. If the demographics change, we should not become an island of Germanic culture in a non-German sea. We are no longer an “immigrant Church,” and our demographics SHOULD reflect, as much as God enables, the communities to which we SHOULD be ministering.
    I do not claim to know what motivated you to write this, but I do agree that shaming Christians into reaching beyond their comfort zones is a poor way to fulfill SA IV. Far better, and much more faithful to our true name of Evangelical Christians, is to be “constrained by the love of Christ” to “go forth into all the world, preach[ing] the Gospel to every creature.” With that motivation, you neither target nor ignore people who do not necessarily share your ethnic or racial background. As a fellow preacher of the Gospel, I have served wherever the Lord has called me, from Hemet CA to Gary IN, preaching the same Gospel regardless of the cultural, ethnic, or racial demographics of the congregations and communities where I was placed by God. My brothers in the CMC program have been trained and equipped to serve in contexts that are outside of the stereotypical Lutheran audience, and we are having powerful results, thanks be to God. For more information about this program, check out http://www.cui.edu/academicprograms/graduate/cmc.

  8. …while the existence of LCMS congregations that are largely white is simply a circumstance, neither good nor bad, the existence of mostly white LCMS congregations in communities that are the EXACT opposite IS a cause for concern, and not only on Mission Sunday.

    Well said, Pastor.

    @Comment 9

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