For those who haven’t been following the discussion going on inside the Reformed communities over affirmative actions role in the hiring of pastors here are a few links to catch up to speed. First John Piper’s internal document discussing the issue and Bethlehem’s philosophy as a church, Adrian Warnocks response, Thabiti’s response and Justin Taylor and Thabiti’s dialogue in the comment chain. 

This is not an easy situation to navigate and I certainly don’t think I’m an experienced seaman here, but I wanted to post some brief thoughts on the matter: first its easy to talk past one another and misunderstand one another as we discuss the issue and requires carefulness and humility which I believe Thabiti and Justin’s dialogue demonstrates on both fronts; one thing that would be helpful in the matter is not to assume things about Piper or Bethlehem church – you simply don’t know the hiring history of the church or all the factors playing in the discussion. 

For young white male’s, freshly graduated from seminary (I fit in here) I believe this issue has real force as they pursue positions. Here are some concerns I have as a candidate in this season in life;

  • The immitation factor – a lot of younger, less dynamic Reformed churches out there maytake their cues from Piper and Bethlehem’s decissions here without having the same wisdom and depth that may have occurred in the process of Bethlehem decission to go public with this. What’s this going to do to young white male candidates ability to find pastoral labor?
  • The PC dehumanization factor– predominantly white churches hiring black pastors could cause a dehumanizing factor for that candidate where he or she feels like the PC card and typically is used that way in services, brochures, and websites. I’ve got godly African American pastor friends who’ve felt something of this and I can tell you were pretty upset and disillusioned by it. I want my brothers to be honored for who they are beyond their skin or PC role, they are leaders with prophetic vision and theological depth and strong character and that needs to be fore-fronted, not their skin color or some ‘diversity’ agenda that really becomes more of a PC affair for the public.
  • The mine stripping factor– what happens when the best African and Latino and Asian leaders go to not just white churches but white suburban sprawl areas, what happens to the cities that could use such leaders? My concern is when high profile churches advertise the way Bethlehem has instead of diversity and the increase of mission in the church we’ll have a further impoverishment of the city where such leaders could really have a multi-ethnic impact.
  • The contextual theology factor– there are such things as Asian, African American, and Latino theologies. What is this kind of affirmative action affair going to do to these theologies at work in the experience and heart of these men. My concern is that it will function as an entertainment piece for a white audience, or on the flip side will genuinely minister to the ethnic minorities present but then will become a less prophetically impacting message for the white majority of the church that needs nourishment and challenge. Probably a mixture of this will happen. Is this a good thing, or not? 
  • The ongoing discussion over what diversity means in a biblical theology of the church – simply put, is affirmative action a way forward for diversity? If so, what do we mean by diversity, by affirmative action, and how are our actions having a missional impact on the world? One thing needs to be keep clearly in mind, skin color does not always equal ethnic cultural difference, be sure they’re authentic and real, if your surrounding culture really demands an affirmative action hire.

It would be easy for me to leave you with the impression that I’m against affirmative action, or the hiring of different ethnic candidate choices at a mono-ethnic church. I’m not. Here are some situational things that for me at least provide good reason to incorporate affirmative action into the hiring policy of the church.

  • Honor those things which most demonstrate fidelity to God’s work in your community – to me this means that candidates who have come from within the church organically, deserve special attention and prayerful reflection – we often don’t honor the prophet from our own midst the way we should. If someone from an ethnic minority has risen up in your church they deserve special attention even if your predominently white because God has risen them up for your people, bottom line.
  • Be sensitive to the missiological needs of the area – there are plenty of situations where a church has an all white staff and lives in a multi-ethnic area where the white community is just one among many, it terribly difficult to reach out to such an area with a multi-ethnic divirsity that is leading the church.
  • Honor spiritual character above theological depth or ethnicity – first and foremost a pastoral candidate must be someone who has a deep and rich spiritual life with God and the churches they have been apart of in the past. This should be first on the list of reasons why you’re hiring someone. That being said I think there are circumstances that would make hiring someone who may be less mature but could minister because of their ethnicity and culture more effectively to the culture your are located within. There’s tension here, no easy way around it.
  • Be committed to the long haul of spiritual development in their life– don’t treat any ethnic candidate as a hire and leave to themselve kind of person, all pastors need ongoing vital spiritually accountable relationships, make sure every candidate is receiving the edification they need to grow. And visa versa the affirmative action hirey could bring a wider cultural engagement of this labor as pastors pastor one another in the church. That being said I have concerns about negative aspects as well, can brothers and sisters from different ethnic cultures empathize with one another entirely (I believe they can, but for instance I’ll never know what it means to be Black)? This is really needs to be weighed among each church individually, if your maturity isn’t there then don’t hire that person because its not good for their development. Walking on egg shells is part of this, more like walking in faith and wisdom.

For my white young male brothers out there candidating, gaurd your heart from bitterness and contempt, and from gossiping about others. Trust the Lord and I would even say more than this, rejoice that God in this time is awakening his people more and more to our diverse nature as one people in Christ.