Some Protestant pastors preach on race but most leave it to others

"Have leaders in your church urged you to preach about racial reconciliation?" Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

(RNS) Close to half of Protestant senior pastors have recently preached on racial reconciliation and more have publicly prayed about it, but few find that their congregations are urging them to address the topic.

A new LifeWay Research survey also finds that most pastors have not addressed economic inequities in their communities or joined a public lament about racial injustice.

“It seems like most congregations are eager for somebody else to do the work of reconciliation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, “rather than embrace it for themselves.”

“Our congregation would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation.” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

The vast majority of pastors (90 percent) said their churches would welcome a sermon about racial reconciliation. But almost three-quarters of pastors — 73 percent — say they have not been encouraged by church leaders to preach about reconciliation. A quarter (26 percent) said they have been urged to address the issue from the pulpit.

Interest in discussing matters of race varies across denominations, researchers found.

Pentecostal (93 percent) and Baptist (92 percent) pastors are more likely to say their congregations would be open to a reconciliation sermon. But they’re less likely to have been asked by church leaders to preach one. Just 17 percent of Baptist ministers and one-fifth of Pentecostal pastors said they’ve been urged to preach on the subject.

Similar numbers of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (92 percent) are likely to say their churches would welcome sermons on reconciliation, but about 1 in 3 (37 percent) have been urged to give one.

Mainline pastors are more likely than their evangelical counterparts to have been encouraged to preach a sermon on racial reconciliation (38 percent vs. 22 percent).

“Which, if any, of the following activities have you personally done in the last 3 months to encourage racial reconciliation?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

Other findings about Protestant senior pastors are:

  • 57 percent spent time at social activities with neighbors of other ethnicities.
  • 53 percent led corporate prayer for racial reconciliation.
  • 51 percent talked about reconciliation with church leaders.
  • 45 percent preached a sermon on racial reconciliation.
  • 40 percent met regularly with clergy of other ethnicities.
  • 31 percent invested church funds to help change local economic inequalities.
  • 20 percent led a public lament over racial injustice or unrest.

The phone survey by the Nashville, Tenn.-based evangelical firm was conducted from Aug. 22-Sept. 16 and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • What part about reconciliation, restoration, confession of sin, asking for forgiveness, etc. aren’t part of the teaching the Church should do? Those strike me as Jesus topics.

  • No. That is a political issue. Political issues should be left to politicians. The church is to teach about God.

  • so reconciliation, restoration, confession of sin, asking for forgiveness are Jesus topics unless it involves racism. Then it’s political?

    As many have said Jesus message is highly political, it’s just not partisan.

  • Racism is not political. It’s a manifestation of how we treat others different from us. All the government can do is make laws. This is one role religion needs to take on.

  • My concern Philip, is the churches are here to teach Christ and Christ crucified. You deviate from that, and people are not saved and the pulpit becomes a political stand, rather than doing what they should be doing – preaching Christ.

  • No. Churches seem to get diverted too easily Jim. The world is constantly trying to pull the church away from it’s mandate – teaching the Word of God.

  • Ok, what I’m hearing you say then is when a pastor preaches reconciliation, restoration, confession of sin, asking for forgiveness, they are not preaching Christ. Or is it only when that preach involves racism is stops being preaching Christ?

  • No…..I have lots of things that pastors are teaching today that are not preaching Christ…….

  • Ok, then I don’t understand your original comment that pastors should preach Christ. It seems your saying pastors shouldn’t preach about racism, though the preaching against racism and for reconciliation, restoration, confession of sin, asking for forgiveness is preaching Christ. I just don’t understand what your getting at here.

  • Some Protestant churches discuss race, but not in the ways most would want

    Trump didn’t “hijack” anything. His strategy was to affirm and exploit racist beliefs that evangelicalism has held since its inception. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that evangelical Christianity as we know it was founded to uphold those beliefs. The 2016 election was when they came full circle, discarding the pretense that they ever cared about morality or family values. Now they’re returning to the white supremacism of their origins: the faith concocted to justify slavery and segregation, to provide divine sanction for the myth of America as a nation of, for and by white people.

  • Ok so racism and a number of other topics shouldn’t be touched from the pulpit? Even if those conversations are about reconciliation, restoration, confession of sin, asking for forgiveness?

  • OK people. I’m opening a confessional right here. Everybody take a number and get in line. And that means you too, buster. Yeah, you. We’re going to start the ball rolling on this acknowledging our white privilege, repenting of our sin of racism, and reconciling with our offended brethren. Who’s going to start? C’mon, show us how it’s done you who are complaining the loudest. Don’t be shy. C’mon social justice powder puff ranger warriors or whatever you call yourselves. You who whine the loudest about racism and what we’re not doing about it. Confess your white guilt. Put your money where your mouth is. We’re waiting.

  • Yawn. The writer has no biblical clue about the relationship between evangelical Christianity and racial equality (including the abolitionist and integrationist movements).

    Where DO you dig up these zombies from, anyway?

  • The title of the story doesn’t seem to reflect entirely the statistics cited by the author. In my own church our pastor has not preached on racial reconciliation because all are welcome to fellowship with us and we treat all people with dignity. We are less concerned with the past, than seeking opportunities for the future Our congregation is fairly small, older on average, and substantially Anglo. That said, we have a number of Hispanic members, though no African-Americans, who are a very small subset of our rural community. Still, I have been to events where the attendees were a relatively diverse group in common cause to worship Jesus and proclaim His Gospel to any who would receive it. I was won to the faith by a black man whom I proudly name as my spiritual father and dear friend, and I look forward to seeing him again in heaven.