Ferguson marked a turning point in the evangelical world on discussions about race and the Church — and not in a good way.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was lethally shot by a white policeman, Darren Wilson, in an act of self-defense. Officer Wilson was found justified in his actions in every follow-on investigation, including one undertaken by President Obama’s Department of Justice, then led by Attorney General Eric Holder. CBS News reported that “Federal officials concluded there was no evidence to disprove Wilson’s testimony that he feared for his safety.”
Furthermore, the official DOJ investigation concluded,“…nor was there reliable evidence that Michael Brown had his hands up when he was shot.”
It was almost a year later, and the false narrative of “Hands up, don’t shoot” had already turned into a nationwide rallying cry, but even the progressive Washington Post columnist, Jonathan Capehart, ultimately conceded this fact.
Writing in response to the DOJ investigations that cleared Officer Wilson, Capehart admitted that the reports “forced me to deal with two uncomfortable truths: Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.”
That’s right: “Hands up, don’t shoot” was a lie. Always has been. I wonder how many Christians realize that?
Sadly, the obvious answer is “not nearly enough.” Because as we look back over the last eight years, it’s clear now that the lies of Ferguson served to kindle the raging, destructive fires of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Far more than the death of Trayvon Martin, it was the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson that birthed the current (though fading) “racial reconciliation” craze that swept across American Christianity, smuggling in all kinds of unbiblical beliefs and practices.
This was a movement that completely suckered many evangelical leaders and pastors — a triumph of pathos over logos — who happily repeated the slogan, put #BLM in their bios, marched in the rallies, and began to chastise their white congregants for not being committed enough to this ill-defined and extra-biblical notion of “racial reconciliation.”
How many pulpits were filled with pastors who lamented another instance of “racial tragedy” the Sunday after Ferguson, even though no evidence existed to support such a claim? Those prayers were lies; those pastors should repent.
The way that so many evangelicals fell hook, line, and sinker for the “Ferguson narrative” is all the more appalling when you consider that the official BLM organization is committed to disrupting “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” as well as being a “queer‐affirming network.” While they claim they exist for the sake of racial justice, The Heritage Foundation explains that “a closer look reveals BLM to be a revolutionary movement, rooted in Marxism, that wants to dismantle Western society.”
Has BLM made life better for black Americans? Of course not. Their movement is arguably to blame for disastrous policing shortages in major cities, like Chicago, where homicides, violent crime, and gang activity have hit levels not seen in decades, while arrests are at record-breaking lows. And the founders of BLM are under investigation for potentially misusing millions in donations for personal benefit.
Why retread this ground now? Because this history is an indispensable background for the continuing conversations about the role, purpose, and priority of diversity in the Church — and in Heaven.
Given that the conversation about “systemic racism” in America and in the Church is largely built on lies like Ferguson, it’s not surprising that the resulting — and continuing — conversation is confused and unbiblical.
This was on clear display this past week when megachurch pastor Rick Warren sent a tweet that concluded with this rather remarkable claim: “If diversity scares you, you’ll hate heaven.”
It was one of those comments that made me stop and go, “Beg pardon?”
The entirety of his statement read: “In Heaven, YOU will be a minority! Get used to it. Most Christ-followers in the world don’t look like you, think like you, or vote like you. They’re saved by grace thru faith, Jesus-lovers from every era of time & place. If diversity scares you, you’ll hate heaven. Rev. 5:9.”
While it’s not clear what this comment was prompted by, it’s a good example of what I am calling “divisive diversity rhetoric” and a great example of how Revelation 5 is often misused.
The first way this is divisive is that implies that we know who will be a “minority” in Heaven. No one, to my knowledge, has any reliable data on the demographic composition of the Celestial City. God saves who He will. Yes, in Revelation 5:9 we are told that Jesus Christ “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” — but we aren’t given a percentile-based breakdown of this redeemed gathering. God saves according to grace, not according to race.
Second, I do know this: No one in Heaven is going to care about things like “being a minority” or a “majority.” Those are manmade terms and concepts, the “things of earth” that “will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” The hope of Heaven isn’t that it’s going to be a super diverse gathering, just the kind to make all the closet racist Christians squirm. No, the hope of Heaven is that we will all experience perfect, unceasing fellowship with our Triune Creator God.
Christians aren’t going to be gathered around the throne of God, glancing around at each other and trying to size up apparent ethnic allotments. Rather, we will all, in unified spirit and wonder, behold our God face-to-face. We will be worshipping Him with our glorified bodies, free from sin, sickness, and death, and praising Him for His goodness, love, and majesty forever.
The hope and focus of Heaven actually isn’t Revelation 5:9, its Revelation 21:3-4:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’”
Third, and finally, here is another fatal flaw with Warren’s comments and this broader way of thinking — as informed by lies like Ferguson. This misstep gets at the shoddy philosophical foundations of the statement, the overall lack of coherent logic, and the theological mistake.
It’s as simple as this: Hell is a very diverse place, too.
This isn’t just a throwaway point; it’s crucially important. Along with tweets like Warren’s, I hear people say all the time, “I want my church to reflect Heaven more by being more diverse.” Okay, well, Hell is also diverse. In fact, Hell might be the most diverse place in existence. Consider the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
The hard reality is that Hell is every person’s default destination. This is because we are all born sinners, inheriting guilt from the shared father of all humankind, regardless of your race, the first man — Adam.
In Adam, all fall. All Europeans. All Asians. All Africans. Everybody.
Your race plays no part in your damnation — your sin does that. And your race plays no part in your salvation — your repentance and trust in Jesus Christ and belief in the Gospel does that.
So, I guess, if “diversity scares you” then you’re not going to like Hell either. See how silly that sounds?
It’s that point right there that exposes the biblical bankruptcy of Warren’s admonition. Diversity isn’t the point of Heaven. Nor is it the point of Hell. The pressing question of our final resting place is whether you are spending it with God as a member of His family in eternal joy, or whether you are suffering under God’s just judgment for your sin in eternal damnation. I guarantee that in both end-states no one cares one bit about “diversity.”
I’m not the first to make this observation. Mark Dever, the senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, has said something very similar. In fact, given the fact that I’ve listened to more sermons from Mark Dever than from any other preacher out there, I probably picked it up from him in the first place.
Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark said: “Diversity is very common in Hell. Diversity is not a uniquely Christian trait. Unity in diversity is what is unique to Christians — the unity we have in the Spirit.”
Mark is correct. For Christians, it’s the unity in the Spirit that counts — and that’s what will count in Heaven as well.
I want to make a qualification to Dever’s addition. Even non-Christians can have “unity in diversity” when they unite around shared affections, such as love for nation. Unity in diversity is not, in fact, an exclusive or unique Christian trait. But unity in Christ — now that’s uniquely Christian.
Let’s turn off the detour and get back onto the main path. What do we conclude? Hell is diverse. Heaven is diverse. Okay, then, that’s settled.
But what about here on earth? I’ve seen pastors argue that a more diverse church equals a more holy church. It’s funny, though, how such standards are never applied to Kenyan churches. Or I’ve heard it said that if a church is more diverse on earth, it looks more like Heaven. I’ve dealt with this already, but consider, again, the logical implications were such a statement true. It would mean that a faithful, Gospel-preaching church located in a 99 percent black community, say somewhere in Baltimore, that is almost entirely made up of black congregants, doesn’t look much like Heaven. Does that mean it looks more like Hell? Of course not!
We must point out once more (even as our pointing finger is getting sore) that it’s never the black churches, Hispanic churches, or Korean churches that these people have in mind when they lob these bombs. It’s just the majority white church in rural Ohio caught between their “look more like Heaven” crosshairs. But with a little bit of reason, we can see that either way, it’s truly a meaningless metric.
Because it’s not the diversity that makes a diverse church “look like Heaven.” It’s how the members of any local church treat each other (and non-Christians) that counts. For example, if you were to just physically survey a multi-ethnic congregation, in a snapshot, what does that picture tell you about how this diverse body loves one another, sacrificially gives and serves each other, pushes each other on to love Jesus more, and helps each other repent of sin? Nothing. You might have the most diverse church in the world, but if that church is defined by division, slander, quarrels, and hate, it doesn’t look like Heaven at all.
In our age of postmodern multiculturalism, we have lost sight of the basics, of ground truths, and we have imported sloppy thinking into the Church. This might sound shocking, but it’s true: There is nothing intrinsically valuable about diversity.
What matters are the beliefs and values that draw diverse people to them. In this case, those beliefs are in Christ and the Gospel.
What matters is being humble, respectful, and willing to learn from others of different races and backgrounds, all while seeking and prioritizing objective and transcendent truth together. What matters is if a church on earth is “speaking the truth in love” and, by doing so, growing “to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 3:15-16).
Our culture is obsessed with a skin-deep diversity that demands cognitive conformity. The Church should reject such petty, small-minded paradigms. We, of course, want (and demand) unity on the confessional matters of orthodox Christian faith. But we don’t seek manufactured diversity — by no means. Rather we aim, per James 2:1-13, to “show no partiality.” Every local church, no matter where they are located, should tear down any barriers to entry built on sinful human partiality. Beyond that, they must preach the Gospel, love their neighbors, and trust God with both the growth, and the composition, of their local gathering.
Hectoring faithful Christians about being a minority in Heaven isn’t helpful, it’s divisive. Telling mono-ethnic churches in mono-ethnic settings that they aren’t as holy as the multicultural church in downtown Manhattan isn’t loving, it’s divisive. This is “divisive diversity rhetoric,” and it needs to end.
Yes, God is gathering a people for Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. What a great reason for rejoicing! The Gospel will go to the ends of the earth. Christ the conquering King guarantees it. But it’s God who is doing this, not mankind. Revelation 5:9 isn’t an imperative for local churches here on earth to reflect such a diverse gathering here and now or be found unfaithful. Far from it. It is a glorious indicative, a statement about what God Himself is doing and will do by the power of His Spirit and the preaching of His Gospel. Christians misstep when we mistake indicatives for imperatives. In those missteps, we can needlessly divide the Church.
Instead, Christians should strive to hold fast to the truth, both about what happens in our world, like in Ferguson, and what can be found in the pages of the Bible, like in Revelation.
Let’s get back to the truth. And by doing so, leave behind the last decade of divisive diversity rhetoric, grounded in unbiblical and illogical conceptions of what Heaven will look like. Our churches here on earth will be better — and more heavenly — for it.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe