“There are three kinds of lies — lies, damned lies, and statistics."
– Mark Twain
Typically, I find the Barna Group studies enlightening and helpful to ministry perspectives. I have quoted and propagated their research many times in my pastoral circles. Unfortunately, this is not one of those occasions. I fear, with this issue, Barna Group has fallen to the 'spirit of the times' – sacrificing nuanced, objective research for social justice propaganda and fuel.
Primarily written by sociologists who come into the process with various assumptions, this is hardly detached research (done in partnership with The Racial Justice and Unity Center – we can expect some attempt at proselytism).
From Dr. Glenn Bracy (the principal investigator) to Brooke Hempell (with Barna – who considers this a 'personal study') – the team is connected with non-profits who already function on initiatives, presuppositions, and mission statements. This research was not done to find the truth (as we will see) rather, it was compiled to move an agenda (otherwise known as loaded research/hypothesis testing – I cannot stress this enough). In the words of Dragnet, “Just loaded stats, ma’am. Just loaded stats…”
This is concerning because such fuel only reinforces (in an already media saturated country) a distrust between ‘groups’. The ‘results’ will be received as; “Nothing has changed…white people are still not listening and are apathetic to your plight.” Therefore, further dividing our country and Christ’s body. When – this is simply NOT the case, (the whole story) – as I will try to unpack and explain. We can talk about these issues in a better way – it’s not ‘black and white.’
Each researcher is an 'expert' in racial/ethnic research and, therefore, will automatically skew the interpretation of the results and narrative of the study in a particular direction. Here we have an idea (White Christians are failing to ‘know, own, and change’ injustice) therefore, we need ‘stats’ to prove it. Make the idea stick (cough – propaganda). Don’t lose the idea – simply buffer it with ‘science’. Sociology quickly becomes evangelism for social change and 'anti-racism' work.
Right out of the gate – the methodology is vague (thank you, Dr. Patricia Schoenrade, professor of psychology from William Jewell College, for your insights!) It seems that the conclusions are largely based on online questionnaires and focus groups. But what about the respondents? 3000 poll respondents and 20 focus groups sounds like a lot, but this is purporting to represent either the entire Christian church in the U.S. or at least Evangelical churches. What evidence do we have that these responses are indeed representative?
In “Focus Group Interviews” and “qualitative data analysis” it is VERY difficult to maintain any sort of objectivity and one typically ‘looks for themes.’ It would be worth knowing what procedures were used to code and distill the data.
On the data tables: P 132 is an example. For several of the key ‘woke’ statements, although white and black responses differ, in many cases a minority of BOTH groups endorse the anti-woke position. Nor are we told how these items were presented; could they check one? All that apply? In what order were they presented? All of these things make a difference.
The issue with studies like this is that all the material is anecdotal relativism. Every question and poll operates off a baseline basis, (the idea) already assumed reality or fact. Dr. Michael Emerson calls it the "disease" that won't go away (Pg. 10). Racial injustice is the disease that we need to eradicate. That is all fine and well – but racial injustice is not the disease – it is a symptom of sin – in all people. This contradicting theme goes throughout the study. There is an unorthodox reframing of classical Christian theology, soteriology, and eschatology happening with justice exegesis. These are not theologians – nor historic ones at that. Revisionist history is another subtle underpinning running in the researcher minds.
The opening essay sets up the reader – “since WE KNOW there is systemic racism (isn't it obvious?) our study is about WHO is avoiding it and WHO is not listening to the FACTS." Yet – there is no honest discussion about the FACTS of racism/injustice. Only talking points, assumptions, and misleading stats (Pgs. 24, 55-56).
On pages 55-56, we see this is in action. Where is injustice? How is injustice defined? What is the SPECIFIC injustice in mind? How is the injustice being fixed? (currently). For example – systemic racism in schools is defined on pg. 24 by the 'redlining methods' of the 20th century – (which are now illegal) – and the poorly funded urban schools (which could be fixed by school choice and school vouchers for needy kids).
Notice on page 55 – titled "The Facts of Inequity." First – does inequity mean injustice? No. We need to get this straight. That is a lie and Marxist idea at its core (yes, I used the M-word).
Second, I am surprised at the points/so called ‘facts' they used – all of which are misleading and under closer examination – explainable without jumping to "injustice" by the majority class.
"The typical ‘white’ family has eight times the wealth of the typical black family and five times that of Hispanics." What is wealth defined as? There is a myriad of reasons why this inequality exists. Could it be that ‘whites’ in this poll disagree with the facts of INJUSTICE (not mere inequity)?
First, household income statistics can be very misleading. The number of people per household is different among different racial or ethnic groups and from one income level to another, and it is different from one time period to another.
At the same time, Barna overly simplifies the data (again) by pointing only to white, blacks, Hispanics, and 'everyone else.' This leads to 'misleading' results. Any statistician worth their salt would never use "median wealth.” Instead, it would seem more valid to use individual wealth. Either way – these stats overlook that Asian (Korea, Japan, China, India, Pakistan) Americans vastly outpace (in wealth) "white families," which is still not defined (because European cultures all perform and vary differently). Australian Americans being some of the wealthiest (2019 American Community Survey).
The "facts of inequality" presented here are not easy answers and require delicate multi-varied research (none of which is done here). However, Barna would do themselves a favor by reading Thomas Sowell's marvelously work "Discrimination and Disparities."
Again, the existence of inequality is not always injustice or a stacked deck. Yet, once more, Barna is pushing, frankly, conspiracy theories with no factual evidence – in 2021. Rather, we should be looking at the real reasons behind inequity. Hint …. It's not white Christians.
What about fatherlessness? Maybe we should look at the stats there. Check out www.fatherhood.org. 64% of black families have an absent father compared to 24% of white families (2019, datacenter). Do you think this might be a relevant stat? Why are so many black kids growing up without fathers? Another complex situation.
For blacks, even during slavery, when marriage for slaves was illegal, black children were more likely than today to be raised by both their mother and father. Economist Walter Williams has written that, according to census data, from 1890 to 1940, a black child was more likely to grow up with married parents than a white child.
"For blacks, out-of-wedlock births had gone from 25 percent in 1965 to 73 percent in 2015. For whites, from less than 5 percent to over 25 percent. And for Hispanics, out-of-wedlock births have risen to 53 percent. What happened to fathers? The answer is found in a basic law of economics: If you subsidize undesirable behavior, you will get more undesirable behavior. In 1949, the nation's poverty rate was 34 percent. By 1965, it was cut in half, to 17 percent -- all before President Lyndon Johnson's so-called War on Poverty. But after that war began in 1965, poverty began to flat line. From 1965 until now, the government has spent over $20 trillion to fight poverty. The poverty rate has remained unchanged, but the relationship between poor men and women has changed – dramatically." (Larry Elder, PragerU).
That's because our generous welfare system allows women, in effect, to ‘marry’ the government. And this makes it all too easy for men to abandon their traditional moral and financial responsibilities. Psychologists predict such patterns as the natural consequences of reinforcement. Sure – it's not the whole story – but is it relevant? How can Barna draw the conclusions they do? Once again – we are dealing with stats designed (paid for by the Lily Endowment) to push a narrative.
Did you know kids without a father are four times more likely to be in poverty? Seven times more likely to get pregnant as a teen? More likely to have behavior problems, addiction, and be incarcerated? Let's not forget that many dads and the 'inequity of prison populations' are due, in large part, to the war on drugs in the 1980s and 90's – brought about by Congressional Black Caucus! So please – Barna Group – spare me the damned lies.
What about abortion clinics that target communities of color? Abortion is the single most deadly reality for black babies. More babies are aborted than born alive in states like Illinois and New York! (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
This is not willful ignorance on the part of white Christians. We simply have different views on what is truly systemic. But – because we have naively accepted critical race theory, white people cannot disagree, because that is 'not listening' even though the facts reveal a different reality. But – in 2021, 'lived experience' is more important than facts.
I will intercept the Barna Group response – "you're blaming the victim – those inequites are due to systemic injustice" – "not quite," I reply. Instead, your study blames white Americans…for everything…even the reality of black on Asian crime (pg, 49-52)! There is no effort to discuss the complex nature of inequality.
White supremacy is not cause of every injustice! Can you please respect my white experience as I remind you? We need to stop taking away the need for personal responsibility. Sure – systems can become corrupt – but who makes up systems? Individuals. It starts with you and me.
We are ALL privileged in the United States. It's not perfect – but no one dares trade it for another country on this earth. We have come a long way – let's not take steps back.
How can we possibly move forward with a basis in assumptions that so absurdly oversimplify such complex issues? If we do not know what this is – questions like 'is racial injustice a concern for you' don't apply. What do you MEAN? Could it be…that white people are concerned about injustice but injustice that EXISTS and is not engineered by a narrative?
Emerson even goes on to say, Pg. 10, "Racial diversity of churches was never to be the end goal; biblical racial justice, reconciliation and authentic unity are the end goals.” Really? I don't remember that in the great commission (sure – it's a byproduct). Again, we are dealing with runaway theology. As Bishop Manning put it, "All human conflict is ultimately theological."
Once again – the baseline is missed. The cancer is being avoided for the symptom. We are missing the forest for the tress. Overall, the tone of this study is cynical towards the Church – and the reason the WHITE church views things differently is not defacto racial undertones or indifference. And indeed, part of the problem is that the authors seem to believe there is a ‘black’ and a ‘white’ church, but I don’t recall Christ ever describing his bride this way.
On page 15, under "A New Lens," – the author notes, "Each person brings their own level of race-consciousness into these discussions, affecting the way they see themselves and move through the world." This is true – but no basis for research – it's anecdotal. This "lens" smells a lot like intersectionality. Their experience is different – and as a minority (oppressed class), they alone have a valid, truthful perspective. The author is setting us up by noting that people of color are more 'race conscious' than white Christians. Of course – why is this?
The author notes that this is likely due to pg. 15, "Persons negatively affected by racial dynamics tend to think about race more often." Could be – but that is a mighty assumption – what about being a minority in a majority culture? As a white Christian, if I go to China, I will be VERY aware of my race.
Why have we become so race-conscious? Is this not the zeitgeist of the age? Could it be that our country (the west) is obsessed with identity? Are we not truly 'us' unless we have a modifier before our names? Luke the white, straight, he/him, pastor…etc.
All the while, we forget that even though our 'ethnicity' varies – our culture is essentially the same. We would all be in for a shock if we joined our Iranian brothers and sisters in worship tomorrow. Why is it wrong for a church to have a 'culture'? I would argue that every Church has a different 'way we do things.' We should not be concerned with how we can be completely neutral, PC, on eggshells…but rather…is 'the way we do things' like Christ? Is it Biblical? Then we can focus on spiritual gifts and not the color of skin. Isn't that the actual dream of Dr. King?
The authors go on to ride the intersectionality wave (stepping outside of objective research) by stating on pages 15-26, "This listening is a step in our own repentance toward segments of the Church we haven't fully represented and served in our work. This is a deficit our team intends to correct… we hope to build trust with leaders of color by engaging thoughtfully in issues that they have championed for many, many years. We see and acknowledge your good work and are eager to learn from and celebrate your leadership."
We see here - White guilt – repentance as the oppressing class – and now we know (as readers) that the 'black perspective' shall not be objectively critiqued or questioned. "Listening" is not merely receiving the information – it is submitting and acknowledging the antidotal experience regardless of the facts (which still have not been presented in terms of what the injustice is).
Again, the glaring issue in this study – Biblically is the one of identity. It is now assumed that all churches should 'celebrate' race or one's identity. This is all wrong. Church is not designed to make YOU feel celebrated or even valued – outside of Christ's work. Church is about celebrating Christ. We are training our churchgoers to expect a 'celebratory' environment in our churches, and if not – prejudice must exist. Is this not a repeat of 1 Corinthians?
It is hilarious that churches have done precisely as Barna Group and others have suggested (become diverse) only to find out that this makes them more racist (by loss of identity). “According to our research, prejudice still exists and is more often experienced in diverse churches than in those that are monoracial” (pg. 25).
What kind of Biblical question is (pg. 26) "I feel pressured to give up part of my racial/ethnic identity in my church"? First of all, that could mean anything, and second, YES, we are to give up these identities to put on Christ (Galatians 3:28). This does not mean your background or culture is unimportant – but they take a back seat! You bet your bottom dollar we must give up 'a part' of our identity. Mark 9:35, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
We assimilate to the image of Christ – all of us. But – this whole issue on page 28 is once again pointing out Critical Race theory ideas. They noted one' black congregant' saying, "Sometimes multiethnic means the culture's still white. You say you're multiethnic, but the leadership is white, and the music is white, and the power structure is still white. So, there's really no dynamic change there." White music? White POWER STRUCTURE? You see – these things ‘WHITE’ are automatic 'oppressor' classed – it's never enough.
You replace one thing for another and then repeat the problem. We are now being told to re-segregate to protect people from racial assimilation. If this cannot be done, churches must 'accommodate.' There used to be a beautiful thing in Church called 'church assimilation,' and if the Church was Christlike, the process was beautiful discipleship. Assimilation is not 'be more white' – it's 'how has God gifted you? How can you serve? How are you growing in holiness?"
Newsflash – it's not about US – it's not about white or black music blah blah blah – it's about magnifying Christ! But – as long as "whiteness" is a prevalent power structure – every tradition or western idea must come down, or 'people of color' feel injustice/bias. You can't win.
Even though I go to an Asian church or Hispanic Church as a white person, I am expected to assimilate. They will not change the language for me or the music – is that racist? Hardly.
On page 34, once again, the questions are vague. "Historically, the United States has been oppressive to minorities." It depends - what is historical? In what ways? "Do you think our country has a race problem?" Again, what KIND of race problem? A race problem in the sense of systemic racism? Oppression of minorities? Or the reality that we are divided on this issue? Politically divided? Narratively divided? What EXACTLY is the division over?
The same questions follow on page 35. "Racial injustice" is a loaded word. It sounds terrible – like something we should all be against – But – I would answer "not motivated" because I know that "racial injustice" defined today means something very different. Dominique Gilliard, on pages 57-59, exemplifies this disconnect when he speaks of supporting BLM. For him – we Christians need to look past the organizational narrative for the 'theological implications.' That is awfully naive – considering the rhetoric, unchristian, anti-God core of BLM as an organization.
When you say 'black lives matter’, it has nothing to do with the plain meaning – and you know it. Two things can be true at the same time. First, Black lives DO matter, and second, BLM is absolutely wrong. Just because they claim an injustice doesn't give them automatic free airtime absent criticism.
From pages 38-40, David Bailey's article is the epitome of how these ideas turn the Church into a community center over a place of Christian worship. Dripping with cynicism towards the 'white evangelical church,' Bailey notes worship should be formation focused over expression driven. How is this right? Automatically by hyper-focusing on "is everyone's culture being represented here?" turns the focus off God and onto each other. This is a horizontal worship style rather than vertical.
Music is vague. No two churches have the same style or agree on everything – but as a Pastor – if I worried every Sunday about formation (in the sense of representation and comfort), I would never be able to think about God. What a maddening, burnout awaits us!
In their language and reactions, the researchers assume that the inequality presented, or opinions of white Christians, are SOLEY because of their bias, racism, or overall indifference (because of their privilege). This is noted heavily in the interim articles, and the webinar posted to the Barna YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MmQ9n2_QVw).
Overall, the study continues its case leading to how the Church can best move forward in growing as a multiethnic church (hopefully still isn't racist). Ultimately, we are being told to radically redefine what Church IS to create the beautiful, utopian goal of perfect equity.
Church, inequality is a fact of life. It is not going away until the new heavens and the new earth. In this life, no matter how much action or deconstruction we do (which is not all bad), inequality will never disappear. Opinions will still vary. Churches will still have majority cultures. Why? Because people are complex. We respond to things differently. We are allowing social engineering, academic, ivory-tower types to direct our ministry efforts. This should never be! Rather, Church, Just do the hard work. Form relationships. Get to know your congregation intimately. Ask questions. Go into the highways and byways and preach the gospel.
Serve the needs of your community. Welcome all people. Do your best! Pursue quality time with God. Grow in the apostle's teaching and in fellowship. Whatever you do – grow where you're planted! And pray without ceasing.
Do you want to know how to grow into the Church and people God wants you to be? Look at Acts 2: 42-47, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Devote yourself to these things, and God will make your Church whatever He wants it to be. We cannot thwart the coming picture of Revelation 7:9 – it is already decreed. Alternatively, make disciples of all nations – wherever you are. Repent and forgive. The enemy of God would have us keep looking backward until we break our necks.
The gospel rightly preached will always break down any dividing wall. The gospel does not need any sidekicks (CRT, anti-racism work, lament, reparations, etc.). It is like a lion – simply set it free, and it will defend itself.
Written By: Pastor Luke Johnston
GlenHaven Church, KCMO