As a pastor today of a multi-ethnic church, Bryan Loritts has a unique heart to help the church lead in the area of racial healing and reconciliation. Speaking from Scripture and his personal experience, Pastor Loritts shares some powerful stories and biblical insights to help different racial groups better understand, communicate, and ultimately love each other as the body of Christ.
More About Our Guest
Bryan Loritts is the lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Silicon Valley. He also serves as the President of the Kainos Movement, an organization committed to seeing the multi-ethnic church become the new normal in our world. In addition to these positions, Bryan serves on the board of trustees for Biola University, and is the husband of Korie Loritts, and father of Quentin, Myles and Jaden.
His latest book, Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All, is available now.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: I'm your co-host Sean McDowell, professor of Christian apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here today with a very special guest, our friend Bryan Lorritts. We want to talk, Brian, about your book that's just come out recently entitled Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All. First of all, welcome. Thank you for being with us. We're delighted to have you on with us.
Bryan Loritts: Well, thank you guys for the invitation. Scott, it's good to be with you outside of a boardroom.
Scott Rae: Here, here. I agree with that.
Bryan Loritts: Have great respect for you guys, so thanks for the invite.
Scott Rae: Thank you. Bryan serves on the board of Biola University, and we've had several conversations in the last few months within the boardroom. Glad to get the chance to do this outside of that.
Scott Rae: Bryan, just tell our listeners a little bit about your own journey to faith yourself. You grew up with a fairly influential father on the staff of Cru, formerly Campus Crusade. Just tell us about your own spiritual journey.
Bryan Loritts: Yeah, thanks. That's a great question. I always thought that my testimony was rather boring, and there was no drama to it. It wasn't one of these situations where I was strung out in some addiction or whatever, and all of a sudden there was this kind of Acts 9 Damascus Road experience. But I'm deeply appreciative.
Bryan Loritts: I grew up in a strong Christian home where my parents for years was on staff with Cru, in fact, the same organization that Sean's parents serve on. I just was really privileged to have parents who loved Jesus deeply and authentically, and just lived out their faith. They used to call us ... My friends, I'd bring them home from school for dinner. They'd call us the Huxtables. Nowadays, I don't know if that's so great of a reference, but back then it was.
Scott Rae: Might not be a compliment today.
Bryan Loritts: I know. The point I'm trying to make is they just didn't have a category for both parents around the dinner table, and my dad opened up the Bible and doing devos with us. I grew up going on mission trips. That was kind of the home I grew up in. The older I get, the more deeply appreciative I am.
Bryan Loritts: I said the prayer at the age of four, to answer your question. That was because I went to Vacation Bible School. I'm sure this would be illegal now, but back then, they showed a room full of four-year-olds a film on hell.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Bryan Loritts: I freaked out, came home and said, "Don't want to go there. What must I do to be saved?" and prayed the prayer. But as far as owning my faith for myself, that didn't come until age 17. Yeah, that's a little bit about my story.
Scott Rae: Okay. Now, you're a graduate of Talbot. You've been pastoring in several different cities. You started multiethnic churches in Memphis, and now are pastoring in the Silicon Valley, the Bay Area of California, Abundant Life Christian Fellowship. You've got a special heart for pastoring and nurturing multiethnic congregations. Tell us-
Bryan Loritts: Yes.
Scott Rae: ... a little bit about where that came from and why you're so passionate about that.
Bryan Loritts: Yeah, Scott. Rick Warren says it this way; he preached a sermon once in which he pretty much said don't waste your pain. His argument was a lot of the time your passion emerges out of your pain. I had some pretty heartbreaking experiences in Bible college that just happened to be of the ethnic variety, and it just kind of wounded me deeply and set me on an emotional tailspin. I think what made it worse was that it just so happened to come out of a Christian environment.
Bryan Loritts: Over time, that pain, out of that just kind of emerged this sense of, hey, we're still pretty broken as it relates to race relations, and I really see it in the church. As I began doing itinerant ministry and standing up before homogenous crowds, I just began to ask myself the question, "When are we going to come together?" I wanted to be on the solution side of things, so I just started praying the prayer, "God, I've got this ... There's a hole in the wall, to borrow a phrase from Nehemiah, and I want to be a part of fixing it. I don't know what you're going to do with it, but I'm available."
Bryan Loritts: A couple years later, an opportunity came to go to the toughest city in the country to do multiethnic ministry among blacks and whites in an urban setting. It was Memphis, Tennessee. We jumped on it, and made a ton of mistakes, but God was faithful. Out of that, a church emerged. Then an opportunity came for me to help tons of leaders through this ministry I started called Kainos, which we labor to see the multiethnic church become the new normal. That's a bit of how I got there.
Sean McDowell: This passionate that you describe is just all over your book Insider Outsider. It's clear that you've experienced this, but you have a heart for the church to move beyond some of the racial injustice and understanding, and really embrace the broader biblical image of what the church should be like. Can you tell me, what's the heart of Insider Outsider, and also how you came up with that title?
Bryan Loritts: Yeah. I think writing on race is tough, right? Because it's America's historic sin that hasn't quite healed. Whenever you write on it, it's just extremely difficult. I wanted to write something that addresses the issue, but I didn't want to do it in a didactic form. I felt like it would be most palatable to put it in narrative form.
Bryan Loritts: It's almost like I'm putting my arm around you and just say, hey, I just want you to come with me on this journey and see what I've seen and feel what I felt as I sit in a classroom in Bible college and learn about this thing called classic dispensationalism, or come with me as I serve at a white Presbyterian church in North Carolina, and after my first sermon, one of the deacons says, "We need to let this N-word preach more often."
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Bryan Loritts: I think it's more digestible because it's my story. We may debate facts, but I don't think we can really debate experiences. Hopefully, it's done in such a way that challenges without deflating people.
Sean McDowell: That's a tough balance to meet, isn't it?
Bryan Loritts: Yeah, it is.
Sean McDowell: One of the things that jumped out to me, I studied communications as an undergrad, so you made a point that I kind of paused and have reflected on. I hope you can explain to us. You said, "Sometimes a tension arises because of a difference in communication between facts and feelings." You make the point that oftentimes during racial strife, the black community rushes to feelings, and the white community rushes to facts. What do you mean by this, and how does this break down communication?
Bryan Loritts: Yeah, so it's the communication pyramid. Actually, I know Tim Muehlhoff, who happens to be a professor at Biola and a good friend of mine, I know he didn't come up with it, but he's the one who introduced it to me.
Bryan Loritts: Really, the communication pyramid says there's five levels of communication in descending order. The most superficial level is cliché. "Good morning." "Good morning." "How are you?" You really haven't said anything. Levels two and three, SportsCenter talk. It's where most guys hang out, facts and opinions. Levels four and five are indicator lights of your deepest relationships. Level four is emotive, sharing how I feel. Level five is transparency, sharing who you are.
Bryan Loritts: I think this grid, Sean, is helpful, not just in race relations, but in marriages. I mean, Korie and I have just ... We've really pressed into this, and it's been a great tool for us, for me to move past facts and get into feelings.
Bryan Loritts: I think what happens, and you pick any racial incident where there ... Let's just say it's an incident involving perceived police brutality, where a cop who happens to be white shoots a minority. What tends to happen is minority communities rush into level four, where we're emoting and we're lamenting, right? Then what happens is our white brothers and sisters, and I've experienced this, they're saying, "Well, hold on. Let's not rush to judgment. We don't know what happened yet." They're hanging out in what I call lawyer land, level two.
Bryan Loritts: Now, I don't know how it works in you all's marriage, but in my marriage it just doesn't play well when my wife comes to me with level four and I stay stuck at level two, right? I'm not saying, Sean, there's not a place for facts; there is. I'm saying, if I'm going to have oneness with my bride, I need to first stop and feel until I resurface later on to facts.
Bryan Loritts: Soong-Chan Rah wrote a profound book called Prophetic Lament, and in that book he analyzes all of the worship songs that we sing, and he says over 95% of worship songs that we sing are triumphalistic. He's overcome. He's conquered. He's risen. Now, all these are great things, but he says less than 5% of the songs that we sing in church are lament songs. His point is we are hardwiring a generating of Christians who don't know how to lament, who don't know how to sit in the ashes with others. That, I think, is a major, major breakdown in race relations.
Scott Rae: Bryan, let me go to some of the details of the book. You make a distinction between white Evangelicalism as a movement and a white Evangelical as an individual. Can you help us understand how you're understanding those two things? Then you also make the argument that as a movement, white Evangelicalism needs its last rites to be performed. Spell out what you mean by that.
Bryan Loritts: Yeah. One of the points I make, and I make it pretty early on, is Evangelicalism and white Evangelicalism are like 400-year-old conjoined twins who've never been separated in their lives. The history of Evangelicalism in America begins with the Puritans, although there's some debate over whether or not they were Evangelical the way that we understand it. Because the Puritans happened to be white, those two things were connected. Because the history of America began on a note of whites being empowered and seen as superior, that brand of Christianity has always had white fingerprints on it.
Bryan Loritts: When we talk about Evangelicalism, if we try to peel back the layer, what I'm getting to, and it's on Page 25, there's really a couple core things, this movement of Gospel centrality that's really focused on the primacy of Scripture and justification by faith, and there's also a modern movement within Protestantism that's marked by Bebbington's quadrilateral of biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. We can talk forever about that.
Bryan Loritts: I think that's one thing, but when we get to white Evangelicalism, we're really talking about a cultural agenda that's defined by whiteness. Here's where we have the problem. Korie Edwards, who I think has been wildly helpful for me, she's a Jesus-loving sociologist at Ohio State University who's kind of our Yoda when we talk about issues of diversity within the church. She says white people do not cognitively think of themselves as being white. When I read that, something in me just says, "That's exactly it."
Bryan Loritts: The analogy she uses is almost like having two arms. The three of us talking, we have two arms, but we're not cognizant of that. We're not aware of that. It's just kind of how we function. She says minorities are kind of like one-armed people in a two-armed society. If you've got one arm, you're constantly in tune with that reality. That's what it is, really, with our white brothers and sisters.
Bryan Loritts: I teach preaching at a seminary, and it's a class called Preaching Reconciliation. One of the first exercises I have my students do, we'll be in class and I'll say, "Define for me what black preaching is," and hands go up. "Define for me what black theology is," and hands go up." I then say, "Well, what's white preaching, and what's white theology?" and they have the hardest time with that. I don't let them off the hook. I break them up into small groups, and they've got 45 minutes to wrestle with it.
Bryan Loritts: It's an infuriating exercise because it's hard to label what one has normalized and mainstreamed. I just argue that I think any good hermeneutics teacher will tell you the notion of being purely objective when you come to a pericope of Scripture is an incredible false presupposition. We all bring our worldview to the text. What you try to do is, as best you can, is to divest yourself of those things.
Bryan Loritts: Well, part of that worldview is ethnically informed. As a black man, there's just things that I naturally pick up. I see the racism that Daniel experiences in Daniel Chapter 6, this minority working in a Gentile society, and his coworkers are trying to oust him. I'm like, "Daniel, you need to go to the HR department and file a complaint about that." Or the fact that Jesus goes to Africa as an immigrant. As a minority, I see that, right?
Bryan Loritts: I cannot divest myself of my African-American worldview when I engage the text. I argue in the book, I'm not asking for white people to do that either. I'm just saying we need to be aware of our unique biases. We need to see them if we're going to really have unity with one another.
Scott Rae: It sounds like this is sort of the basis of how you understand the notion of privilege, and particularly white privilege. I had a faculty colleague tell me that he understands privilege as not having to be aware of your ethnicity. Is that sort of the heart of it, or is there more to it than that?
Bryan Loritts: Yes, I do think that's the heart of it. I make mention of it in the book, and I think it's incredibly unpopular for me as a minority to say it, but I really do, the more I think about it, and I've been thinking about it for a long time, the more I really believe it, I don't like the phrase white privilege because attached to that is that privilege is inherently wrong.
Bryan Loritts: Well, I try to run everything through a Gospel lens, and I'm going, "Okay, who was the most privileged person to have ever lived?" It was Jesus. It doesn't get more privileged than God in the flesh. So if privilege is inherently wrong or sinful or evil, then we've got a major problem with Jesus.
Bryan Loritts: I think what Jesus shows us in his life is privilege is not the issue; it's the stewardship of privilege that is the issue. That's why Jesus is constantly talking about whoever is first will be last, and how he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Talk about stewarding privilege well, that's the whole kenosis passage in Philippians Chapter 2. He humbled himself, took on the form of a servant. I mean, here he is God in the flesh, but doesn't regard that in a way in which he holds onto his rights.
Bryan Loritts: I want to do away with this whole notion that white privilege is wrong. I think the poor stewardship of the privilege is wrong.
Scott Rae: Okay, I think that's a helpful distinction, because I think there are a lot of whites who, when they hear that term, immediately they have one of two reactions. They either are defensive or they feel guilt.
Bryan Loritts: Right.
Scott Rae: Both of those assume that there's something wrong with the notion of privilege.
Bryan Loritts: Right. Absolutely.
Scott Rae: I think that's a really helpful distinction. It's how you steward that and how you leverage that is really what matters.
Bryan Loritts: Absolutely.
Sean McDowell: I'm interested in asking a question kind of about practice. You said that you could count on three fingers the number of white Evangelicals who have contextualized their preaching to fit the norms of minorities in their churches and spaces. I'm curious what this would look like.
Sean McDowell: I worked for a year in the inner city, and it was primarily Hispanic, but a range of minorities were there, and I preached one time to the students. When I was done, this guy came up to me; he goes, "Man, you're using words like awesome and cool." He goes, "We don't really use those words anymore." This is like two decades ago.
Sean McDowell: He said, "We use words like phat, with a P-H, and the bomb." I looked at him, I said, "You know what, I can do better at that, but do you want me to be me or pretend to be somebody else?" He kind of looked at me; he was like, "You know what, actually be you."
Sean McDowell: As I read this, I thought, "What would it look like if I was invited to preach in this context, for a white Evangelical to appropriately and thoughtfully contextualize their preaching to respect minorities without being somebody that they're not?"
Bryan Loritts: Yeah. That is more art than science, Sean, because I think you hit the nail on the head. You don't want to be inauthentic. You don't want to feel like you're being someone else in that moment. I also think when we talk about contextualization biblically, of course the premier text on this is 1 Corinthians Chapter 9, when Paul talks about becoming all things to all people that he might win some, right?
Bryan Loritts: We see a glimpse of this in Acts Chapter 17. I mean, I just love Paul, because whenever he walks into town, he's always got two questions when he comes to plant a church. One, show me the synagogue. I want to share Christ with the Jews. He walks into a synagogue, he unfolds the scroll, and he's working a text and he's pointing it to Jesus. I think that's becoming a Jew, even though he is a Jew. That's an interesting thing that we could riff on for a while.
Bryan Loritts: On the other hand, when he's done at the synagogue, he's not done in that city. I mean, if he's in Athens and he says, "Well, where do the Gentile hang out?" and they point him up to Mars Hill, and there is no unfolding of the scroll. He just uses what they're familiar with, and what they're familiar with is an altar to an unknown god, and he's quoting one of their poets. But it all ends up in the same place, the cross.
Bryan Loritts: I think that is really helpful for me when it comes to contextualization. It's knowing who my audience is. I get this a lot. I think one of the things I was trying to put my finger on is justice ... I've had well-meaning white hosts say this to me, especially in the earlier days of my ministry when I was figuring out my voice as a preacher. I was constantly told this thing, "Well, when you're with whites, you need to be more conversational. More conversational. More conversational."
Bryan Loritts: Now I just naturally do that, but if I go to Faithful Central, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, they hear things ... They receive it best through more of an emotive kind of a posture. It's not to say that I can't have any other kind of elements to it. I do. But I think effective communication is who's my audience and what do they need me to be in this moment without compromising who I am.
Bryan Loritts: I'm wrestling with the tension. I think African-American and minority speakers naturally do that more with white audiences, and I just haven't seen our white brothers and sisters come to our direction and do that in our audiences. I think I make the statement, as long as contextualization is a one-way street, it's oppression.
Sean McDowell: Wow. That's a really fair and important distinction that I think you made, and something that we can really work on and be more intentional about.
Sean McDowell: You share a story in your book that was one of my favorite parts, about Dr. Gordon Kirk, a former Biola professor and a pastor, kind of famous conservative, a white Evangelical that just had a big impact on your life. Can you tell kind of who he is and what he did and why that was so significant?
Bryan Loritts: Yeah. In the spring of 1998, I'm finishing up at Talbot. By the way, the best graduation ever, Sean, was when your dad preached. He preached for 180 seconds-
Scott Rae: I remember that.
Bryan Loritts: ... I think it was.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Bryan Loritts: Then I think Dr. Cook got up and said, "We're going to have to take that out of your check," something like that. It was the best.
Bryan Loritts: Anyways, right after graduation, I left Faithful Central, which is a large African-American church in Inglewood. God had just called me to go over to Lake Avenue, this historic church in Pasadena that was primarily white, pastored by Gordon Kirk. I walked in there convinced that God called me there, but not necessarily wanting to be there, almost like Jonah in a lot of ways. I was still licking my wounds, and there were some things that I just had to work out and some growth areas.
Bryan Loritts: Just a matter of weeks being there, Dr. Kirk was on vacation ... This would've been around July of 1998 ... and had me get up and preach. God was with me, and things went well. When he got back off vacation, he just said, "I want to try something called a teaching team." Here I am just 25 years old.
Bryan Loritts: The point I'm making is he stewarded his privilege well by sharing power with me. The pulpit has been called the steering wheel of the church, and for three years ... I was there for three years ... and the whole time he's giving me opportunity after opportunity and letting me preach. I remember we did a series on spiritual gifts. We're planning it out, and he goes, "I want you to teach on tongues." I'm like, "Really? You don't really know what I believe about the gift." "Yeah, I trust you." That may have been a little bit foolish. It went well, but I just say all that to say-
Scott Rae: Are you sure that wasn't a penalty?
Bryan Loritts: It could've been. Could've been. Could've been.
Bryan Loritts: I just say all that to say if I didn't have a Dr. Gordon Kirk type person in my life, I'm not so sure I would be doing what I'm doing now.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Bryan Loritts: For him to share power the way he did with me, across ethnic lines even, it was just a very moving thing in my own sense of development.
Scott Rae: Bryan, I loved particularly your last chapter in the book, A Hopeful Eulogy. What are some things that are happening that make you hopeful going forward?
Bryan Loritts: Yeah. I would say the major thing, Scott ... That's a great question. When we first started out, we planted Fellowship Memphis in 2003. I'm looking for resources, and I'm trying to find mentors to help us think through multiethnic church, and there wasn't a whole lot of places to go. There was like a handful of things.
Bryan Loritts: Now, with the amount of literature that's out there, and you talk to the average church planter, the average church planter has multiethnic on their radar. They may not know how to get there, but it's on their radar. That is deeply encouraging to me.
Bryan Loritts: We do these things called the Kainos Cohort, which is 12 to 15 leaders, church planters, pastors, from all over the world. They fly in to the Bay Area, and they get three days with me and some other leaders just to learn about multiethnic church. I don't even have to advertise for it anymore. I've got a waiting list. To me, that's the deeply, deeply, deeply moving thing.
Bryan Loritts: It's a two-edged sword, though. I think the reason why my cohort is packed out is because they're not really getting this kind of stuff right now in the academy. I think we've got some growth to do in the academy and helping to get people while they're 19, 20, 21 years old exposed to this, but we are making deep strides. Where we are now is miles away than where we were in '03.
Scott Rae: That's very encouraging. Bryan, if we've got pastors or church elders who are listening to this and they want to get connected with the church consulting thing that you're doing through Kainos, how would they do that?
Bryan Loritts: I think the best way is if they went to our website, which is alcf.net, they went to alcf.net. They can email me through the website, and we can get them an application. We do several of them a year. Yeah, I think that'd be the easiest way to do it, Scott.
Scott Rae: Sounds like what you've envisioned here in these cohorts is just a really effective boots-on-the-ground way to start effecting some pretty significant change one or a handful of churches at a time.
Bryan Loritts: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, at this phase of my life, I get far more joy influencing 12 churches through 12 leaders than I do preaching to 10,000 people. That's the stuff that makes me smile.
Scott Rae: That's great stuff. Well, Bryan, we were so appreciative of you not only coming on with us, but for your book and for your ministry, for your service on the board at Biola. We'd like to see some of these conversations continue, particular in the seminary academies, since last time I checked, we were still training a good number of the next generation of pastors. That would actually be terrific to continue to talk about that, how we can do this to impact the folks particularly at the seminary level.
Bryan Loritts: Absolutely. Well, I'm deeply appreciative of you all and the great work you guys are doing for the best school out there, Biola.
Scott Rae: Thank you, friend. Great having you with us today.
Sean McDowell: Thanks, brother.
Bryan Loritts: Thanks for having me. Appreciate you guys.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Bryan Lorritts, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically.
Scott Rae: If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening. Remember, think biblically about everything.