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I’m grateful for Phil Johnson’s gracious and clear reply to my post responding to his Facebook “poke” (his word) at me. I’m even more grateful that Phil isn’t interested in a prolonged brouhaha, which the Internet sees too much of on any given day and rarely results in much light. So this won’t be a prolonged reply inviting more exchange, and in a very real sense it’s not directed at Phil, though I’ll use some parts of his post as convenient jumping off points. It’s trying to set matters straight publicly–matters having to do with what I do/don’t think about some very important issues. And since I’m the only one who can definitively say what I think, I suppose I have to be the one to say it.

Let me apologize for the length of this. If you like, skip to a section that most interests you. But I’ve written at some length because I don’t intend to revisit these things. So here goes:

1. I am unwaveringly pro-life.

I believe life begins at the moment of conception. I believe that life ought and must be protected. And I consider myself consistently pro-life, which I define as valuing and wanting to defend life from the womb to the tomb. I decry as heinous, evil, tragic and sad any unjust taking of life by anyone at any time against any person of any age–pre-birth until death. Some people took exception to a tweet where I asked an interlocutor “What about the living?”, by which I meant people outside the womb. I did not in any way mean to imply that people in the womb were not among “the living.” I see how people could infer that if they want. But that is most definitely not what I meant or what I believe or what I have ever believed. I believe life begins at the moment of conception and ought to be protected by every just means.

Here are just a couple things on this blog written years before this kerfuffle:

2. I have not and I do not recommend anyone vote for Bernie Sanders.

At least since October 2012, I’ve been making the case for why I won’t vote and why I don’t think there’s a viable candidate worthy of a Christian’s vote. I know that’s a minority position. I don’t expect to be terribly persuasive. It’s just where I’m at. And I’m in good company, even if we’re a small number. Even someone who worked so tirelessly for African-American enfranchisement as W.E.B. DuBois saw in his day presidential races wherein he would not vote. Some people think I’m playing some kind of double speak here, saying I wouldn’t vote but encouraging others to vote Sanders.

But here’s the context:

That article essentially demolishes the Clinton claim to fostering policies that help African Americans. Based on that article, the original tweeter said this about Sanders:

So, in context, I was criticizing Democratic policies in conversation with a person who is not a Christian and is supporting Sanders. I was longing for every African-American voter to read it and avoid what it describes. Nothing in that is an endorsement of anyone; rather, I state it’s a critique–a damning critique–of the entire party.

Then my dear sister who knows me so well, who had taken the time to read the article and understand my point of view, asked me a harmless and fair question, the two of us assuming so much understanding of each other. I replied with two tweets (because who can say anything in one?):

In answering “Sanders” was a good candidate for the vote, I was accepting a “forced choice” situation. I could have said, “No one.” And in retrospect, given all the hoopla, I wish I had and left it at that. But I was trying to have a conversation and to say Sanders is who I thought would get the vote. I was saying that because, in my opinion, he’s the candidate (only?) trying to talk at length with African-American voters about their concerns and represent those concerns the way the voters themselves would. See, for example, this endorsement from the daughter of Eric Garner:

The fact that he would produce a 4-minute commercial told almost completely in the voice and from the perspective of an African-American mother, the daughter of an unarmed man choked to death by a police officer, is unprecedented and indicative of his willingness to give at least this issue a major platform. Nobody else is doing anything remotely close to that. No one has ever done it in presidential election history. If voting is, in part, driven by self-interests and quid pro quo, I think Sanders stands a good chance of getting the vote. He’s playing the game.

All of this, of course, was in my head and folks reading tweets can be forgiven if they’re not mind readers. But having already established that (a) I don’t think I could vote for anyone and (b) that I think Democratic policies have been disastrous for Black communities, I never assumed anyone reading the tweets would think that my answering “Sanders” amounts to an endorsement, and certainly I didn’t think anyone would go so far as to say I was supporting abortion. But that’s exactly what happened.

So, to put the matter straight:
* I do not endorse Sanders.
* I do not endorse Democratic public policy, especially the sort discussed in the article.
* I do not support abortion.
* I do not endorse any candidate in the race.

3. There’s no drift: I stand by my T4G talks.

Phil wants you to believe that I’ve departed from my 2008 and 2010 T4G talks. To demonstrate that, he posts a clip and quotes from a couple of lines about repentance being the “irreducible minimum” of the gospel and “winning the culture” not being the goal of pastoral ministry.

I believe both of those things today! Join us for any service or listen online and you will hear me preach the gospel and call people to repentance and faith. I try to do that every Sunday and I don’t believe a preacher has done his job unless he does. And I have never said anywhere that my goal was to “win the culture.” If Phil thinks I’ve foisted “justice” on his comments, he’s certainly now foisting “win the culture” ideals on my tweets and posts. I continue to think it’s indicative of a slip in focus when people say “winning the culture is the goal of the church or the pastor.” That is mission drift.

But one can preach the gospel and simultaneously call for justice. In fact, if one understands the gospel properly, they must teach “what accords with sound doctrine” (i.e. the gospel). Justice accords with sound doctrine. Calling for it is part of Christian discipleship and Christian witness. The real problem here is that so many seem utterly incapable of imagining that one can see gospel proclamation as the main thing and maintain that the “whole counsel of God” or “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded” includes acts of justice, mercy, compassion, righteousness and so on. There’s no contradiction or drift there whatsoever.

Perhaps what should be noted is that some people are trying to make the entirety of my beliefs rest on one or two tweets or one or two sermons. To do that, they have to make me contradict myself. To make me contradict myself, they have to ignore plain statements I’m making now. I stand by my T4G talks, yet those talks are far from encompassing all that the Bible teaches and therefore all that I believe.

4. Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

For some time now there’s been this trope floating through the interwebs. “Thabiti defends the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ lie.” As far as I can tell, this line goes back to a post I wrote in support of protestors and pictures I clipped and used that had protestors holding up signs with that phrase on it. From the beginning of the Michael Brown–Darren Wilson situation through the many cases that followed and in interviews, I’ve written that the point for me was not the particular details of the case (which must be adjudicated with due process) but the general pattern of injustice. The individual cases may fall one way or the other–and they have. But there’s a forest here to see. That people are still bringing up “Hands up, don’t shoot” strikes me as tying themselves to a tree in refusal to consider a forest.

5. I mentioned “justice.”

Phil is correct; his tweet and facebook post do not use the word “justice.” Fair enough. But isn’t that what we’re talking about? Aren’t we debating whether this or that cause is just, if this or that strategy is just, if this or that alliance is just? Whether we call it “biblical justice,” “social justice” or just plain “justice”, I think that’s a fair umbrella to hoist above the particular concerns. Abortion is a “justice” issue. So, too, is the treatment of citizens by agents of the state with the responsibility and right to exercise lethal force. I don’t much care which term we use (though I’m comfortable using “social justice” and fighting to distinguish it from faulty ideas). I really care that we try in our own spheres and in our own ways to advance the Bible’s notion of justice wherever we find injustice. Here’s my concern: A good number of people spend all their time labeling and discarding those of us who want to discuss and pursue justice, and it seems to me comparably less time actually working for any robust form of justice. That’s a problem for evangelicalism I think all Christians should consider if they haven’t.

6. On use of terms

UpdateI want to thank Phil for removing the word “agitator” from his post following our exchange. That was gracious and kind of him. That puts the matter to rest as far  as any personal exchange between him and I goes. I’m leaving this original section hoping it’s beneficial for subsequent readers.

Original comment: Phil wants to use “agitator” to describe me. Fine. He want’s to use a textbook definition of the term and give a little history. I learned a lot from that. And in the end, he wants to set aside concern about the term and argue it has nothing to do with “race” and everything to do with the “agitator’s” political views. I respect Phil. And he’s shown me respect in his post. But that’s a naive and laughable notion. King was not called an “agitator” because of his “political opinions.” He was called an agitator by racists because of his “race” and because he sought to undermine their unjust system. We’re now discussing many of the things King himself addressed in his short lifetime, across dividing lines that look frighteningly similar, using the same words to label, and we want to act as if it’s just language. It’s not. Not any more than if I were to call Phil a “racist.” I’m simply trying to help the discussion, especially for those watching who might stumble before they hear well. If my counterparts aren’t willing to consider that and work on it, then they prove some of the worst thoughts many have. That’s sad to me.

And I should respond to the notion that my using a loaded term like “social justice” was equivalent to Phil’s use of the term “agitator.” I agree wholeheartedly that both terms are loaded. However, my term describes issues that we can debate. Phil uses a term to describe me. The entirety of his post was an expression of concern or doubt regarding me, my drift, etc. That’s the difference–the significant difference. He gets personal in a way that I haven’t with him. At no point have I called into question his commitment to anything vital. Quite the contrary. I’ve only tried to express respect for him. “Agitator” does not communicate the same for me. I tried to give everyone a sense of how the word is heard by others. Rather than reciprocate in kindness, Phil doubles down. He charges me with creating a climate that makes his son’s job more difficult and dangerous when I write generally about injustice among police officers, not knowing his son. But he doesn’t recognize how historically “agitator” language has made life more difficult and dangerous when people use it specifically of individual African-American leaders. There’s a blind spot here, but it’s not solely mine.

7. Yes, I still stand with protestors.

Now Phil and others want to say that means I stand with the organization #BlackLivesMatter. I’ve repeatedly clarified that I do not. Even in the DG video linked above, I point to the unhinging of biblical morality from the current #BlackLivesMatters movement.

But I do stand by the hard-earned and constitutionally protected right of people to protest in support of the principle “Black lives matter.” I do not support violent protests. I do not support looting or vandalism. All of which I’ve been slanderously said to encourage and condone. I do not. I support the legal right of people to assemble.That right is particularly important to African Americans who for a couple hundred years were denied–sometimes violently–that very right. I think the cause is just. I think the laws of the land grant the right to protest. And I don’t think there’s any contradiction between legal rights to protest granted by the government and submission to authorities a la Romans 13 and other places. In this case, protest is submission because government grants the right.

8. Arguing about racism and abortion

That’s not an argument I feel compelled to have. Someone wants to argue abortion is the “biggest sin.” Okay. I see why they’d say that. Someone wants to argue racism is the biggest sin? Okay. After a couple hundred years of chattel slavery, followed by counter-Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the terror of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, lynchings, castrations, the burning of black cities and neighborhoods, redlining, separate and unequal education facilities, employment discrimination and all the social attitudes, mores and enforcement practices that go with them… I can see why they might say “racism is the biggest sin.” But, honestly, must we choose between the two? Shouldn’t we fight with all our might against both of them and against every injustice? That’s where I stand. That’s why single-issue, abortion-is-biggest, don’t-talk-about-racism appeals aren’t persuasive to me. Neither abortion or racism are the only thing to champion. I think the Christian heart has to be large enough to include both and much more.

9. I have a son, too.

Phil disclosed his concern for his son, an officer serving admirably and courageously in a tough neighborhood. Phil, and many others, think I’ve made his son’s job more difficult and dangerous by the things I’ve written.

I honestly don’t know how that could actually be the case. It seems to assume either that I endorse violence against police officers or that criminal elements in his son’s neighborhood are reading my blog. I highly doubt any criminal element in any neighborhood is tuning in to Pure Church. And I’ve never called for violence against an officer. Yes, blue lives matter. Absolutely. I wrote the following on December 10, 2014:

I take it for granted that a reasonable person understands that in calling for criminal justice and law enforcement reform I am not suggesting that all officers and staff involved in this system are racists or wicked or anything like that. The people who work in these systems have the most difficult jobs, often without the best resources and with little thanks. This is not a screed against those persons in uniform who put it on the line day-in and day-out for our collective well-being. This post is a jeremiad against those officers and practices that betray the many good women and men who serve in Law Enforcement and who rob the service of its dignity and respect by their corruption. It's those unfaithful officers and administrators who make this a pressing and lethal civil rights issue.

I’ve always believed that. But I’m learning that I can’t take anything for granted in these conversations. That’s shame on me.

But let the record be set straight: I do not wish harm on any officer of the law. I’ve never wanted to say this for fear of it looking self-serving to some, but I have police officers and state troopers in my family, too. I want every officer’s safety and I want their families whole and I want officers to use their considerable authority justly and to be called to account when they don’t. What I want for officers is, in fact, the same things I want for the families they police.

You see, I have a son, too. And I have my fear for him. He’s on the other side of this equation. And we’ve chosen to live in and minister to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in my city. He’s growing up in a similar kind of danger Phil writes about. But while police officers can offer an effective defense by simply saying they feared for their life, my 9-year old son if in the place of Tamir Rice and others faces the prospect of being killed then branded a “thug,” “a demon” and so on. In life and in death in this current climate, he has no justification for playing with a toy gun, talking on a cell phone in Wal-Mart, having a mental health issue, or even running away when he’s afraid. All of that can get him killed.

I can identify with Phil because I know what I feel for my son. And if I don’t ring the bell “Blue lives matter” more often, it’s because I’m looking at my son and longing for him the way I suspect an officer’s immediate family does. I get that some in this discussion really want me to ring the “Blue lives matter” bell more. But for that to happen, some of them are going to have to unabashedly ring the “Black lives matter” principle more.


Last year this time I sat in California with a former officer for a couple hours discussing these very things. We came into the meeting prepared for the worst, I think. We left the meeting as brothers, in charity, and feeling we could see all the same issues on both sides, but because of our experiences we leaned in slightly different directions. I think we both thought we should wave the other person’s banner a bit more than we do, and that might give the other’s arms a little rest. I suspect that would happen a lot if folks sat and talked.

We all care about our sons. That’s why we need these discussions and we need to have them like Christians–charitably, graciously, winsomely, hopefully and truthfully. I’ve written enough here for ill-willed people to make a lot of hey with. But I hope you, dear reader, will charitably accept this as my statement of where I stand on issues of controversy of late. Like Phil, I’m now signing off of this discussion.

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67 thoughts on “For the Record…”

  1. John Sather says:

    Thank you Thabiti! I am saddened that you had to write all of this out because your viewed as a “agitator” by some! Those of us that know you and have read nearly everything you have written/filmed; who know the heart of your ministry in DC–stand with you brother! Your gracious reply to Phil is no surprise–that simply is who you are. The issues of justice, racism, white privilege, #BLM, systemic racism, etc are blessed to have a gospel man like you pastoring, speaking and writing. The majority white led churches and ministries need to stop and listen, learn, and most of all build relationships of trust and mutual respect with men and women of color. We love you bro!

  2. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

    “Rather than reciprocate in kindness, Phil doubles down.”

    In an unrelated story, the sun rose today.

    1. Aaron says:

      I appreciate this comment. At what point is the discernment crowd a self-parody? At what point will a Christian leader call out another “orthodox” leader as simply being unloving, uncharitable, in violation of 1 Cor. 13 (hopes all things), 1 Tim. (not prone to quarrel), etc. . . . . It’s time that these kinds of attacks are not covered under the banner of biblical orthodoxy, and that we hold elders to elder-like behavior.

  3. Lori says:

    Sad you have to write this and that apparently not backing the Republican agenda is not allowed in TGC. What if you did support Bernie? What if you did feel his policies would be best for this country in terms of promoting life and justice in real, concrete ways? Is this site about the gospel or shilling for the political right and playing culture war games?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Lori, great comments. Thank you for joining the conversation. And, sadly, I’m afraid that for many Christians political affiliation is a litmus test for whether you’re a Christian or in sin. Your comment reminds me that we need to push back against that in meaningful, even-handed ways even as we champion other things that are biblical imperatives.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

      1. IQ says:

        All I know is that your son has an amazing example. Someone whose love for Christ and the word of God is evident not only in their teaching but when it comes to how they deal with the unexpected and potentially unpleasant issues in life. I am so encouraged by your response. This unapologetic black manhood that refuses self-erasure anymore than is necessary to submit to Christ. Yes TA, you have a son too! A son who will be so proud of you for this, for standing firm and refusing to be a coon for reformed white people to feel better about their silence and abandonment of black Christians on this issue that has left so many communities across America devastated. You stand with your people, acknowledging their pain, making efforts to address the injustice in the system and most importantly presenting them the Gospel. Instead these people who have tried to misrepresent you want you to turn your back in your own people and support whatever they support and want to paint you as a rabble-rouser simply because you don’t think we should be silent when cops shoot black people first and ask questions later. I am so glad for your response because it reflects what I have seen of you since I first listened to you on YouTube. You have a gracious and gentle Spirit TA, and it comes through in the shortest sentence you write. I have been following this whole situation from the first tweets and I have seen your wisdom and measured patient responses to everyone including people who deserve no such response. You are an inspiration to me as an individual who is seeking to be more Christlike. Thank you.

        1. Darrell Grisby says:


    2. David Lee says:

      Not backing the Republican agenda is not the issue. Abstaining from voting is perfectly acceptable if there are no candidates for whom one can vote in good conscience. As far as “What if you did support Bernie?” or any other Democrat Presidential candidate, there is a problem for the Christian. He or she would be voting in support of continuing to murder unborn babies at a rate of 2,900 per day, 1,876 of whom are African American babies. Truly, the most dangerous place in America for an African American baby is in the womb.

      1. says:

        I don’t see much of a difference between the parties when it comes to the issue of abortion. So, in that sense, the parties are equal (ly guilty)

  4. Funmi Ojetayo says:

    Ultimately this debate and many others like it in which I’ve also been involved centers on folks’ inability to accord each other the benefit of the doubt and simply deal charitably with one another, i.e. 1Cor. 13:7 instead of assuming the worst of a brother in Christ (often falling back into political tribalism instead of resting in our familial bonds in Christ Jesus) we fail to protect and trust one another’s goodwill. I have also been guilty of this and have been duly convicted by the Holy Spirit. Case in point this public tête-à-tête between Thabiti Anyabwile and Phil Johnson, two men of God I hold in high regard with ministries through which the Holy Spirit has sanctified me. The problem as I see it, and that started this row is a failure to deal charitably with one another. Seriously, how can one logically assume that a brother in Christ who supports #BlackLivesMatter or is advocating for criminal justice reform is fomenting violence against police? Or is racist against whites? Or is suffering “mission drift” and failure to be biblical? Even if you see, read, or hear something questionable, it seems to me the first thing to do is inquire further, trusting that hey, this is my brother in Christ, I know his character, his body of work, the sound doctrine he espouses, let me ask him if I’m seeing/reading/hearing this questionable thing right before jumping to what amounts to slanderous conclusions? Is it too much to ask for us to assume goodwill of one another and to accord each other the benefit of the doubt?

    This exchange has hurt my heart deeply and I’ve prayed about it, that first and foremost, brothers and sisters in Christ actually live out 1Cor. 13:4-7.

  5. Lindsay Woodrum says:

    Thank you, Thabiti, for your thoughtful response to Phil Johnson. I grew up in the still-culturally- racist South, and as a Christian, I am deeply concerned over these matters. I feel, as I did after the Charleston shooting, powerless to contribute anything of value to our cultural divisions. Like you, I believe in justice for the unborn as well as those victimized by the police. What are your thoughts about what to DO for someone like me? I can only think of the transformational power of the gospel to remedy our national crisis, in individual police officers’ lives and whomever these officers encounter in their tours of duty. I am deeply saddened today, because two police officers lost their lives in my state yesterday, the state of Georgia.

  6. Jason Smith says:

    Thank you Thabiti for your faithful ministry and I am praying for you as you seek to advance the Gospel.

  7. Andy Stevenson says:

    This is an excellent contribution to (and hopefully some closure for) the discussion.

    One observation: so often “the biggest sin” in our minds is always one that someone else is committing. How often we have a blind spot towards our own grievous sin and pride!

  8. Wyeth Duncan says:

    Praying for you, Thabiti, and praying the Lord continues to give you strength. “Who is sufficient for these things?” I know I’m not. Thank you for saying the things that need to be said, and for the gracious way you say them.

  9. Raquel says:

    As a latin woman, I’m tired of this topics #racism #colorpeople #whitesupremacism!! Just for the record I would not consider you someone which I would listen for advice in politics. Specially if you say public like you do now I won’t vote and then before that have suggested would vote for Sanders. I’m a young lady and I feel sorry for men of your age in ministry with so little knowledge not only of politics but also playing so naive.

    1. Sam H. says:

      What you said makes absolutely NO SENSE. Why add you ethinicity and than denounce those who are having a conversation about race.

  10. Melody says:

    Seven officers in seven days have been killed which may be adding to the emotional tension.
    Imagine seven Tamir Rices in seven days. You would be able to cut the tension in the black community with a knife. Not a very good time for dialog.
    The thing that blacks and cops have in common is color. Both get generalizations made about them based on color, one with skin the other with clothing.

  11. Moses Park says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    It seems to me that you are the only one who writes for TGC who also happens to consistently speak on the issue of race in America. I find this utterly discouraging. It seems like a new article is written on the issue of abortion at least a few times a week but the problem of racism seems only to be tackled by yourself. I’m not knocking anyone in TGC as I respect greatly all those who contribute to this ministry, nor am I minimizing the horror of abortion. And I’m not accusing anyone in TGC of being a racist but the silence on these matters utterly baffles me and bothers me.

    I am staunchly pro-life and staunchly against racism. But, it is especially incredibly discouraging to read non-TGC blog entries from white dudes like Phil Johnson who automatically presume “mission drift” on your part because you are speaking out on issues that they (those coming from majority, white culture) are relatively ignorant about.

    I guess what I am saying is I am disheartened, upset and jaded all at the same time at many of our white evangelical brothers who jump to demonize those of us who speak out against racism. They often seem to minimize the very real issue of race in America and yet rally hard against the sin of abortion. I don’t see supporting #BlackLivesMatter and being staunchly pro-life as being mutually exclusive at all but rather in congruence with what the Scriptures say about humans made in the image of God (all of which you have pointed out).

    I think Propaganda says it best in his featured guest verse on Lecrae’s song “Gangland” : “We had issues with Planned Parenthood, too/we just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.”

    1. Casey says:

      Moses Park, the Bible shows us there is only one race of people. Different shade of brown sadly you are misinformed about Phil Johnson. Have you been to Grace Community Church? I attended Grace Life for a while where Phil Johnson taught. I also led a “Fundamental of the Faith” study group one time and if you want to speak about races, there was a Russian, and Armenian, Thai, African American, Mexican, Caucasian all in my small group? Grace Community has outreach and care for all people. Grace Community is a very diverse church.

  12. Pk says:

    All of this just reminds me how far we still have to go.

  13. lance says:

    my fried and brother. thanks once again for your wise and fruitful words. You and your family will most certainly be in my prayers as you continue to provide much needed leadership for God’s people in this vital area.

  14. Laurel R says:

    Thabiti, it makes me sad that you have to deal with, quite frankly, knee jerk criticisms. I appreciate your sentiments in this article and your sermons. I have learned a great deal from you not only concerning ministry to Muslims but what it means to be confident in the gospel. We white folk need your voice (even if some rail against it). Keep up the good work and don’t let the sophmoric criticisms make you jaded.

  15. Aaron says:

    Phil’s reply to Thabiti lacks empathy. . . .he doesn’t “cede” any points to a brother he claims to love. Even points that would not “cost” Phil anything in the argument (i.e. agitator), he continues to double down on. This is troublesome, and to me, as a fellow elder of an Evangelical church, . . seems to not be becoming of an Elder in view of 1 Timothy. Empathy is needed in this discussion, and ironically, Thabiti had published some rather long blog posts enacting empathy towards Police officers last year. It’s an astounding lack of empathy, really, from Phil.

    I’m ok if folks disagree with my reading of Phil, but I think it should be said. It’s not just race-baiters and political liberals who have a problem with Phil here. I am as white as the driven snow, pastor a majority-white church, and typically vote republican. I think Phil erred, and then doubled down on some of his errors. Bad form.


    1. Rick says:

      Phil Johnson is and has long been one of the nastiest voices within “evangelicalism”. I’m glad at least a few more people are starting to take issue with it.

      I have never seen him admit he was wrong, or say anything self critical. What’s ironic about this is that Phil is morbidly obese. He’s not able to control his tongue when it comes to eating or insulting others. He should get the stick out of his eye, and the corn dog out of his mouth before he goes on another rant.

      1. Scott says:

        And you, by contrast, seem to just be a completely pleasant ray of sunshine.

        1. Brendt Wayne Waters says:

          And yet, aside from some crassness, his observations are 100% accurate.

          And unlike Johnson, Rick’s “sunshine” isn’t incessant.

    2. Laurel R says:

      I agree with your assessment. I am embarrased by people like Phil Johnson whp may have knowledge but it seems to exist in a space void of love. That is troubling.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I am both saddened and encouraged by your sharing. Saddened that today, in both the larger society and within the Christian community, we (you) have to go into such detail to explain yourself. But I am encouraged that you took the time to do so, and that therefore we have all been reminded how complex life is. Politics, violence, justice, etc…for most of us, these issues are not so simple as a tweet or a code word, even though others would seize on such isolated remarks. The Lutheran Confession describes the commandment against bearing false witness: ““We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” Certainly we should be doing this amongst our own brothers and sisters.

  17. Bo Fawbush says:

    For Christians who take the Bible so seriously, was this conversation/disagreement handled privately first, or were these accusations leveled publicly to create a conflagration in the blogosphere? I’m sure someone will correct me as to why Matthew 18 doesn’t apply b/c Phil Johnson was not sinned against “directly.” However, in the spirit of Christ, wouldn’t a private email kindly asking you to “define your terms” have been better than FIRST publicly wielding the biblical Hammer of Justice? It is things like this that prove to the world the Pharisaical nature of the biblically literate and causes them to snicker at all our claims of a Risen Savior who changes the way we behave.

    1. Brian Hager says:

      Hear, Hear!

  18. Phil Johnson says:

    Thanks, Thabiti. BTW, I did remove the word “agitator” from that YouTuube comment. I apologize for neglecting to do that yesterday. I wanted to explain my rationale, not “double down.”

    1. Aaron says:

      Thanks Phil, I was critical of your response, and I appreciate your comment here.

    2. Dennis Washington says:

      Encouraged by your response Phil.

  19. Luke says:

    “Some people took exception to a tweet where I asked an interlocutor ‘What about the living?’, by which I meant people outside the womb. I did not in any way mean to imply that people in the womb were not among “the living.” I see how people could infer that if they want.”

    There’s pretty much only one way to take that. You just made a clear distinction between people in the womb and “the living.”

    I’m sure you’re adamantly pro-life and just used the wrong words here; but the fact is that you misspoke and it was not a fault of the people who interpreted your words. It’s wrong to blame them for the misunderstanding; you just need to choose your words more carefully. You said something that is apparently not what you really believe, but that’s on you. Nobody wanted to infer something different than what you said. They took your words at face value.

    And in the end, he wants to set aside concern about the term and argue it has nothing to do with “race” and everything to do with the “agitator’s” political views…But that’s a naive and laughable notion.

    Speaking of doubling down, the only reason the term “agitator” is being argued over is because you’re getting upset about it, not because of how Phil meant it. The word actually has a dictionary definition. There’s no reason to inject race into the discussion, it’s just a smoke screen, and that’s exactly the kind of stuff that makes me think you’re a race-baiter. Defend the content of your character, not the color of your skin.

    1. Mark says:

      The reason Thabiti is getting upset over the term “agitator” is because he is concerned for how people will read that word. Not sure if you’re in ministry or not (I make no assumptions here), but it’s really important to consider as a communicator not just what your words mean according to the dictionary, but how those words will actually be heard by your audience. If those words are completely neutral to you, but they hurt others, instead of telling others to get over themselves and read the dictionary, it may be helpful to consider asking WHY it hurts them so much. Thabiti belongs to the African American community, so why not trust that he would know better than those of us who are not part of that community how the term “agitator” would be received, and seek to learn humbly?

    2. Irene says:

      As an Christian ob/gyn, I disagree that there is something wrong with making a distinction between “in the womb” and “among the living”. Even though life begins at conception, “birth” is defined as “the start of life as a physically separate being”. A baby inside the womb is inherently different from a baby outside of the womb, and even though life is life, there IS a difference in status. I am sure we have all used colloquial phrases, and only someone who is out to nitpick would hold it against another person.

      Also, I have never commented before, but thank you Pastor Thabiti for posting lengthy responses regarding your views. I am sure that being a public figure can be very trying at times with people misinterpreting your message as an attack on your character. I appreciate your graciousness in your responses and your clear stance on certain issues. Black lives matter, blue lives matter, and when injustice is present, there is nothing wrong with advocating for the oppressed.

  20. Darin says:

    Thabiti and TGC –

    I think they are a lot of us whose consciences have been pricked in the recent years towards racism and abortion. For abortion, this last year has been significant, especially with the undercover Planned Parenthood videos. We’ve been encouraged by TGC articles and links, as well as Evangelicals for Life.

    Just because abortion is fought in the political arena doesn’t make it a political topic. Pro-choicers want it kept as a political issue, because then it’s easy to dismiss it as “just politics.” In today’s America, we have a political party whose expressed platform is supportive of abortion. It doesn’t have to be that way — there’s nothing inherent about being liberal that means you have to support abortion. But the Democratic Party has done just that. So, if we are going to end the scourge of abortion, it’s not going to be done with Democrats. That’s just the way it is.

    It feels very deflating to see a TGC council member publicly support a Democratic candidate for President, given this rising wave against abortion that many of us feel happening. And I’m sorry, but when asked “who would a good candidate for the AA vote” and then the answer includes “…But if I had to say, right now it’d be Sanders”, that is an endorsement! No amount of quibbling gets around that!

    There are many of us who see the wholesale slaughter of innocent babies as single-issue worthy, no matter how incredibly awesome they may be in other areas. And I would also be vehemently against a candidate who had amazing foreign policy credentials, who had a plan to end poverty, who was all for making abortion illegal, but said we should go back to Jim Crow laws.

    No one is saying that TGC needs to publicly endorse the Republican Party. But if a political party is going to decide to take a firm stand for abortion rights, it’s troubling to see a TGC council member publicly support a candidate of that party, regardless of context (i.e. the AA vote).

    1. Alex M. says:


      Thanks for endorsing Sanders (just kidding) and writing about this topic. I’m tired of the litmus test for a viable candidate being “do they go against abortion? Are they a Christian? Do they support the redefinition of marriage?”. All these must be answered “appropriately” for a “Christian” to even consider the candidate. Sure, I would want a candidate to agree with me when it comes to these issues, but that’s not the only reason to vote for a candidate. His policies may increase the number of abortions performed every year, even if the candidate thinks it’s wrong.

      I don’t know who i’ll vote for this coming election. But it won’t be just because they mention some boiler plate Christian phrases and then go on to support policies that hurt the poor and further intensify the polarity of this country.

      As far as not voting goes. I’ve appreciated DFW on this. He said

      “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bull***t yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

      1. Stevie G says:

        As a British Evangelical, I have to say it saddens me to see that my American brothers and sisters seem to reduce their political engagement to these three issues, when there are so many other political issues where Christians should be speaking out – and not always on the same side as the Republicans. From this side of the Atlantic, it’s easy to get the impression that American Evangelicals have become not much more than an arm of the Republican Party. I suspect that the American church would have more political influence if you made a point of being involved in both major parties, rather than simply clinging on to the one that says the right things (but doesn’t necessarily follow up with action) on abortion and same-sex marriage.

  21. Michael Wilhelm says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    Thank you for writing in such a measured, irenic tone on issues that tend to create a great deal of emotional upheaval. I do understand the tension that you mention of being unsure of a suitable candidate for the Christian in the presidential race. I very often feel today as a voter without a home. I appreciate your view that Christians should not have to choose which sin is the greatest. It seems that very often we take an “all or nothing” mentality into a conversation or debate. We tend to attempt to end a conversation rather than extend it. I am not sure how well I understand your concerns, however, I think, if I gathered your point, that is the idea. I really don’t know and understand where you are coming from because there are issues you may face that I have never had to confront. It seems that very often we forget the Constitution when someone does something that offends our sensibilities. Most definitely protesters have the right to assemble and protest. This is even true when I may not see their point or even disagree. The speech will allowed to be silenced today will come back to haunt us tomorrow. I think the God who instructed us to love our neighbor as ourselves intended what we contend for justice for all. We have a long way to go. But I hope I am willing to learn, to grow, and to change as necessary under the lordship of Jesus. Thank you for your words and the challenge they represent.

  22. John Rabe says:

    I thought we were headed somewhere productive, but I no longer think that. It’s just a discouraging reality that these racial tensions exist within the evangelical community just as they do outside. We want to be “Together for the Gospel”…but we all seem to have experiences, worldviews, and social identities that make it just about impossible. Yes, we can say “we’re all united on the really important things”–but the level of heat on all sides when it comes to issues like this (and I include my own reactions) shows that’s not really true. I don’t know the answer. But it’s discouraging.

    1. John Rabe says:

      Sorry–If there were an edit function, I’d fix the italics.

  23. Pk says:

    I wonder if a lot of the confusion that came about in this discussion could have been avoided if Phil had asked Thabati a question instead of applying a label to him. From the beginning, Thabati was put on his heels and forced to defend some strong accusations. It may all work out in the end, but starting a conversation with an accusation is a risky venture. Instead, we should strive understand before being understood.

    1. Pk says:

      *strive TO understand”

  24. Wes Holmes says:

    Excellent thoughts Thabiti. Especially, the ones about concerns for your son. Thank you for being the patient and winsome brother I’m just not. It’s still hard to listen to some of this and keep my cool, but I’m learning from you.

  25. John Sather says:

    All I can say we are DELIGHTED to have @ThabitiAnyabwil at Creating Options Together Conference-join us!

  26. Gene says:

    Hello Pastor Thabiti,

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve been helped/encouraged by all the dialogue regarding what others are saying about how Christians ought to balance,if you will, our pursuit of biblical justice without compromising or drifting from our mission to preach the gospel to all peoples (as if those things are opposed). From what I gather I don’t think any Christian would deny that what people need most is salvation and that we are to seek justice for all people. The discernment issue is how do you do both and not compromise or drift away from the gospel. Perhaps you can inform us what you do at your church to show how you can pursue biblical/social justice and yet keep the gospel center – without alienating other ethnicities/cops etc.

    Let me be very specific here and ask you honestly and directly, do you think that by endorsing (focusing more on as you say) the slogan black lives matter can alienate other non believing ethnic minorities who are experiencing the same social injustices who need the gospel just as everyone else does? For example lets say if I was a store owner (of different ethnic descent- non believer) who saved my money all my life, worked hard to provide for my family but yet was robbed, wouldn’t that person from the outside see a Pastor endorsing the slogan black lives matter(and not all lives matter as much) naturally perceive that you don’t care about their rights or that you care about black lives than you do theirs. And here’s a REAL issue to ask, could that hinder my gospel witness to that person or ethnic group or peoples? And I know you can’t control how others will respond and think by what you do, but make no mistake others are effected and feel as if their lives or rights don’t matter as much as black lives or rights, because of your emphasis.

    And lastly Im no historian, but when Dr. King talked about civil rights, though it directly related and centered on his experience as an African American and the issues he was experiencing and, he nonetheless spoke in a way that all peoples who experienced racism or injustice could relate too. Other ethnic minorities felt that he was fighting for them too. I think there are some people who don’t feel the same with you. Perhaps because as you mentioned you are not saying more often (although you believe) that all/blue/ethnic lives matter. Irregardless of what others think, the reality is that our emphasis or lack of can cause anyone to drift from the centrality of the gospel, or at least cause others to drift further away.

    And all that to say I’ve been really helped by your Deacon/Elder book as well as your book on fellowship and others.

    bro. Gene

    1. Gene says:

      I guess your not going to comment back?

  27. Lindsey says:

    Marco Rubio’s video on faith has been viewed on Facebook nearly 11,000,000 times! (that’s 11 million)… Rubio is not without sin. To say that we are voting for the “lesser of evils” is essentially a disturbing statement. We should vote for a man that fears God, trusts in the Word, and is humble.

  28. Jim says:

    You indicate that Bernie Sanders is speaking to issues that black people identify with. I’m not sure if that statement is true or not, but if it is true, then that is an indictment against them. Bernie speaks of stealing money from one to give to another instead of encouraging charity. He speaks of murdering babies. He speaks of increased control over our lives. He speaks of government sponsored perversion.

    Black or white, our values as Christians should be the opposite of what Sanders is talking about. We need you as a pastor to speak against the selfishness and immorality that Sanders is drawing on. Christians should be discerning enough to see through such evils.

  29. Alan Gertonson says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    Praying for you and your family. I thank God for your courage and willingness to stand up. This whole exchange has allowed me to understand some of the things you’ve said recently and in the past – as well as some of your beliefs – more deeply. This is a blessing that we don’t deserve, but I am grateful for. I can stand with you and say that I agree with the Biblical, philosophical and social truth that Black Lives Matter. By your lead, I don’t mind saying it at all.

    To be quite transparent, I was saddened to see so many with so much hurt jump into the conversation and spray “friendly fire”. Perhaps I did the same. It was not my intention. It was out of ignorance, not animus. I really was seeking to understand. To whatever extent I may have injured or offended you, I am sorry. I beg your forgiveness. From what I have seen of you, I am confident I may receive it. I have truly admired your composure during all of this. Your comments and responses brought understanding to my heart, and I am deeply saddened for all of us that a situation required this much composure of you. I would’ve preferred that we did not interrupt your sermon prep.

    May the Gospel will always be the bridge for reason. I continue, by God’s grace, to look forward to meeting you in person at T4G this year. Many blessings to you, sir. And thank you for your example, your ministry, and your grace.

    Sola Deo Gloria

  30. Taylor Barrett says:

    Thabiti, you said ” the point for me was not the particular details of the case (which must be adjudicated with due process) but the general pattern of injustice. The individual cases may fall one way or the other–and they have. But there’s a forest here to see.” But lets think about this for a moment. A forest is only a forest to the extent that there are actually a large number of individual trees grouped together. In this case, we are talking about individual cases of racism against black people by white police officers. You say that you are not interested with the particular details of each individual case… well Sir, the particular details of each individual case are what make the forest stand or fall. Are there real cases of legit racism, or is each supposed case merely an overblown example of a black criminal getting what he rightfully deserved? In almost every single case that this ‘black lives matter’ movement has made a big deal about, the particular details prove that the black person was outside the law, resisting arrest, posing a grave danger to society, and putting themselves in jeopardy. These people have committed strong arm robbery then proceeded to assault and grab for an officers gun, have resisted arrest and caused their own traumatic deaths in the process, have swung knifes at officers whil high on PCP, etc etc. When we examine each of these individual cases, we see that the supposed “forest” is barren. Where are all the trees? The ones we are supposed to be looking at are all hollow. So why are you trumpeting this case now? Because it is good timing. Because it is likely to receive more hits, views, comments, and conversation. And that is ok. But at least admit that truth. Sure, there is plenty of racism in the world today. And much of it is racism by whites against blacks. But the worst kind of racism in the world is black people creating a black culture filled perpetrators who feel victimized. That is the worst form of racism, and it is black on black. Black people glorifying and celebrating a life of violence, rebellion, sexual immorality, vulgarity, and all forms of wickedness… and then acting like they are innocent victims anytime something bad happens to them. That is the real problem here.
    Taylor Barrett

    1. Ulasa says:

      “Respectfully….” oh my….

    2. Susan says:

      Good points, Taylor. It’s clear that in many cases the problem is that blacks assume that the officer (who is white) has treated the black suspect differently than he would have treated a white suspect who did the same things. The officer in the Ferguson case had been with a black mother who had called because he child was in distress prior to the call about the robbery. He had cared for the child and stayed until medical help arrived. Black people who assume that officer shot the robbery suspect because he was racist are making a grossly prejudiced assumption. That is wrong! Thabiti was among those who made that assumption.

  31. Thank you so much Thabiti for your gracious and charitable response to all these unjust allegations against you. I may not agree with you on everything you’ve written here, but your example in how you’ve responded is truly a breath of fresh air. Thank you sir!

  32. don sands says:

    I read Phil’s post. he is such a fine pastor, as you are. For me, a very ignorant brother in Christ compared to you wonderful pastor-teachers, I see the Gospel as the towering truth that needs to be spoken here. And Satan is so very subtle in his ways to have us take the truth of Christ crucified and keep it less important. Bernie is headed for hell, and he needs to hear the truth of the Cross and the empty tomb, and be prayed for. Abortion is evil. It is killing innocent life, and surely we as Christians need to have a humble-boldness about babies being killed in our nation; because God has given us the liberty to speak here. In China Christians can not speak out against abortion, which is mandatory. But, back to the Gospel of good news for sinners. This needs to be our overwhelming joy and concern for souls under God’s wrath. I was a child of wrath, “But God . . . ” Ephesians 2:4 Lord bless and keep you.

  33. Curt Day says:

    Too much to comment on so I will pick just a couple of points. First, regarding voting, I wiould ask Thabiti to reconsider voting. Yes, I agree that there are no good “viable” candidates. But such will be the case more often than not if we don’t start supporting third parties and their candidates. After all, these parties do not become viable overnight, they often get there incrementally. And realize that there are third parties and third party candidates for both Conservatives and nonConservatives. There are candidates from the libertarian and Constitutional parties for conservatives, and for socialists like me, there is the green party and several socialist parties to choose from.

    Also, I want to thanki Thabiti for standing with the protesters while noting the actions that he opposes.

    Finally, when some calls us names, those names might reflect on the name caller more than the target. In addition, I believe that Elijah was once called the equivalent of an ‘agitator’ by the then king of Israel.

    1. Susan says:

      Good points, Taylor. It’s clear that in many cases the problem is that blacks assume that the officer (who is white) has treated the black suspect differently than he would have treated a white suspect who did the same things. The officer in the Ferguson case had been with a black mother who had called because he child was in distress prior to the call about the robbery. He had cared for the child and stayed until medical help arrived. Black people who assume that officer shot the robbery suspect because he was racist are making a grossly prejudiced assumption. That is wrong! Thabiti was among those who made that assumption.

    2. Susan says:

      Curt, the definition of agitator is “person who urges others to protest or rebel”. If Phil had said that Thabiti was urging others to protest, would that have been offensive, since Thabati had urged others to protest in Gospel Coalition articles he wrote? “Name-calling” is much to strong of a term. If Phil had in his heart to be snide then the shoe would fit, but I don’t see reason to believe that he did. This is always the problem with printed communication. It is one-dimensional and it’s too easy to read into things. Give Phil the benefit of the doubt on the use of the word “agitator”. It was an accurate word-choice which he assures he did not assign racial significance to.

      1. Curt Day says:

        But the purpose of name-calling is to giving a false or purposely incomplete description of what the person is doing. To simply call someone an agitator suggests negative associatons with one’s activities.

  34. joe m says:

    Great post. As was Phil’s. I think both voices need to be heard and considered. We have a way to go, yes. A long way… Yes, and we will until the second coming. Still a very good country to live in, whether black or white, compared to many other locales. Most of the Apostles were martyred. Puts things in perspective.

  35. Thabiti,

    Thank you for your thorough answer. Thanks for taking the time to do what you do. You’re a hero brother. I’m a white guy, a pastor for 19 years of a multi-ethic church plant that before I left had members from 23 countries of birth. Our church was a suburban church with a very urban texture to not only its membership but in the whole of its ministries to the community. It was a beautiful expression of gospel across ethnic and cultural divides. It also had and has a lot to learn and it is from men like you that it continues that process. I’m with you. Sometimes, when your skin is something other than white, its good to hear that. I may not understand, certainly not viscerally, all of the dynamics and shadows that our racist past as a nation imposes on us today, but I value what you bring to the table brother. Don’t lose heart. And again, thanks for your grace and kindness toward Phil in the current “kerfluffel.” (what a great word!) God bless.

  36. We are sorry that you have been on the receiving end of what appear to be an ill-informed diatribe. It is worth noting that, historically, many evangelicals would have been very comfortable with many of Mr Sanders emphases. We have written about this here:

    Of course, historically many Christians opposed “progressivism” yet accomplished much for the poor (for example, Shaftesbury). And it is reasonable to vote on one issue of particular concern- for example, abortion. Christians should give one another space to exercise liberty of conscience on such issues. Pastors and discernment ministries should exercise caution when giving political advice.

    Graham and Nicola

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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