Racial Reconciliation Is An Individual Journey, Dallas Pastor Says NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Todd Wagner, pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, about how evangelical churches are grappling with the issues of race and racism.

Racial Reconciliation Is An Individual Journey, Dallas Pastor Says

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, we've been looking at how the current calls for racial justice are opening up new conversations within Evangelical Christianity. Yesterday, we heard from Pastor Irwyn Ince, who leads the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission here in Washington, D.C.

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IRWYN INCE: I do believe that there is a heavier burden on churches that have been historically exclusively white to actively engage in breaking down those barriers and pursuing unity and diversity.

MARTIN: Today, we'll hear from another pastor, Todd Wagner. He is lead pastor at Watermark Church in Dallas, Texas. He says in the beginning, his congregation was predominantly white but has grown more diverse over time. After the emotion of last week, the national protests calling for racial justice, Wagner started his sermon on Sunday with a provocative line.

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TODD WAGNER: Let me tell you what I'm not going to talk about today, and that's racial reconciliation. And the reason I'm not going to do that is because that's impossible. First of all, when you talk about race, you may as well be talking about unicorns. And forgive me if you're here with your child, but unicorns don't exist. And neither does race.

I was trying to help people understand individual responsibility. So many times, like, I've had friends for four decades that have been praying for revival like it's this invisible thing that will happen out there somewhere, that there'd be a group of people that would be magically and mysteriously revivified that would lead to transformation and peace in our world. And what I always want folks to remember is that revival happens in individuals, not in some mystical group that's out there. And the same is true with racial reconciliation. And again, I even defined race. Race is not a biblical term. It's a social construct. So there's one God, one Father, one Lord. And so we're all of one blood.

MARTIN: Can you unpack a little more why you want to avoid the word race? Because I have heard from numerous other ministers, people of color who say that unless you name the thing that is dividing people, whether or not it's a social construct - that the wall will still be there, that the reconciliation part of it won't happen.

WAGNER: I always start by asking people, well, tell me what you mean by race. And so what I'm trying to do is help people understand words have power. And words have meaning. And so racism ultimately isn't the problem. Sin's the problem. And one of the things that we do is we treat different people groups or tribes or ethnicities - we group them into these categories so that we can be oppressive to them because we're sinners. And that is always the problem. So when we talk about racism and injustice not being the problem, what we're saying is they're symptoms of the problem. And I have no problem talking about oppressive acts and specific injustices. But I want people to understand the origin of those injustices and hateful acts.

MARTIN: How do you see your role in this moment? I mean in this particular moment. And I know you talked about the ineffectiveness of racial reconciliation, that it has to happen person by person. It's an individual journey. But what is your role, especially as a white man leading an Evangelical church? What is your role in facilitating that kind of individual epiphany or reconciliation?

WAGNER: Most people have never met a real Christ follower. They meet a lot of churchgoers. And nominal Christianity is one of the greatest poisons that this country has ever run up against. And the greatest evil in America today is the dead, feckless church, the church that has a form of godliness but denies its power - the power in their own life to see their own sin and their own patterns of injustice. And I think when people run into those kind of Christians that aren't trying to accomplish a political agenda but are living according to God's kingdom agenda, I think you're going to see healing in our world and hope in our world in every way that God intended.

MARTIN: Todd Wagner, pastor at Watermark Church in Dallas, Texas, thank you so much for your time.

WAGNER: Hey, Rachel, I've enjoyed the conversation. Bless you.

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