Bryan Loritts is the son of a well-known evangelical preacher, Crawford Loritts, and has himself become a popular speaker and author in evangelical circles.
He is the lead pastor of Abundant Life Church in the Silicon Valley area of California and president of The Kainos Movement, an organization dedicated to promoting multi-ethnic diversity in the church. In his latest book, Insider Outsider, he talks candidly about how evangelicals can do better in the area of race relations.
BR file photo by Steve Cooke
Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Church in the Silicon Valley area of California, preaches to participants of the Baptists on Missions Conference earlier this year. He is scheduled to preach at the April 2019 meeting in Charlotte.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation with Loritts about his views on ethnicity and how evangelicals can better understand one another.
Q: You start the book by explaining your background. Why do you think you’re an insider-outsider?
A: Well, on one hand, it’s pretty obvious. I’m an African-American male, who has African-American parents, who minister in predominately white, evangelical circles.
I can still remember my dad speaking at Campus Crusade events as a young boy. I grew up in white evangelical churches.
On the other hand, there have been times in my life where I felt like white evangelicals were not addressing the things that affect me personally, for example, social justice issues.
Q: When was the first time you experienced racism?
A: I remember when I was in the 9th grade, going out to meet a white girl at the mall. My dad knew that we were going to be meeting each other at the mall. I can still remember the girl’s dad yelling at me, calling me an expletive name when he found out that she would be meeting me at the mall.
Q: In the book, you point out a difference between white evangelicals and white evangelicalism. What is the difference?
A: The two are very different. White evangelicalism is a system led and shaped by a cultural agenda defined solely by whiteness. The term “white evangelical” describes a person.
Q: Why do you think white evangelicalism needs to die?
A: The term “white evangelicalism” is a system where many white evangelicals – not all, by the way – don’t see that they have used their whiteness to hold power over other races and cultures.
They then use their whiteness to normalize their biases toward others, and even at times, tie it into their theology. What makes white evangelicalism problematic is that it never submits itself as one of many perspectives.
It submits itself as the only perspective, which disregards people of color’s points of view.
Q: You talk a lot about the history of white evangelicals in America. Why is it important to tell the history?
A: It’s very important to know history – period. However, we should want to know the origins of white evangelicalism, because of the nature of how it has played out in our country and culture.
Q: In the book, you say that people of color usually rush to feelings, while whites usually rush to facts. Why do you think that happens?
A: There is a difference in a number of ways. For example, people of color see themselves as having solidarity with one another, which makes them feel the need and hurt of the person who is mistreated. For many in white culture, they see themselves individually. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that people of color rush toward feelings because of their solidarity with one another, and white people go straight to facts based on their individuality.
I think both sides have something to offer. We should lament first anytime someone is mistreated, then appeal to facts. It’s amazing in healthy marriages, what couples do with one another, they lean into the spouse’s hurt then figure out the facts.
Q: There are some people of color who believe that white evangelicals don’t care about them. Why do you think they feel that way?
A: Well, that’s a tough question. I will try my best to answer it.
I remember when I attended Bible college and seminary, I was never required to study theologians and influencers of color. I’m not saying it was intentional on the professors’ part, but it did make me wonder why they never thought it was beneficial to put people of color on the syllabus.
I think another reason is maybe because white evangelicals, as a majority, haven’t addressed social issues that affect people of color.
Q: How do you define “white privilege?”
A: The issue isn’t privilege, it’s stewardship. I don’t think we should demonize privilege. I believe that when certain privileges are given to one race over another, the one that’s been given the privilege should steward the privilege to address systems and structures that are biased toward people of color.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bryan Loritts will be a keynote speaker at the 2019 N.C. Missions Conference, organized by Baptists on Mission. The event is scheduled for April 5-6 at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. Visit bryanloritts.co. Maina Mwaura is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta, Ga., with his wife and daughter. They attend Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.)