Steven Furtick, pastor of the popular Elevation Church in North Carolina, said celebrating diverse churches without addressing racial disparity is “hypocrisy” in a frank conversation Sunday with fellow megachurch pastor and friend John Gray in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
The two pastors who teamed up to address race, racism, the heart of God and the way forward in the wake of the recorded killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man while in police custody, acknowledged that there are many people of faith who have chosen not to speak up or have constructive conversations about the issue.
Furtick said God told him it was time to speak up and he could not keep silent as the leader of a diverse congregation.
“If I celebrate that diversity but never address the disparity, to me, that’s hypocrisy,” he said in the conversation with Gray, who leads the Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina.
“In a moment where our nation is collectively reeling from the atrocity of the murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in this nation at the hands of a law enforcement officer, I thought it was time for us. In fact, I knew it was time because the Holy Spirit spoke to me that it was time for us to sit down and have a conversation,” Furtick said.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died in police custody on May 25, after he was restrained for several minutes by Minneapolis Police Department officers. One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, was caught on video kneeling into Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life until he stopped breathing. Last Friday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman charged Chauvin, who has since been fired along with three other colleagues, with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Protesters whose actions have gripped the national news cycle for several days have since been demanding that the other officers involved in Floyd’s death also be arrested.
Furtick said he decided to have the discussion about racial disparity with his church when God spoke to him after Gray shared his reaction to Floyd’s killing in a video last Wednesday.
“Although we don’t turn this pulpit into a reflection of the news cycle because that would be lethal to our ability to teach God’s Word and preach God’s Word, I know when the Spirit of God speaks to me, that’s the only way I can describe seeing your video,” Furtick said about his reaction to Gray’s video.
“When I saw your face on my computer screen, the message came through the computer. I saw how hurt you were in your eyes and I saw how tired you were in your face, and how angry you were all at the same time,” Furtick told Gray.
Gray praised Furtick for having the “courage” to use his platform to address the issue of racial inequality as many white pastors, he said, have been silent on the issue.
“The fact that you had the courage to speak in the moment when many of our white pastors — brothers and sisters — normally have reserved their comments till they get all the facts. For you, with all of your influence, the anointing that’s on your life and the global position of leadership that you hold in the church, for you to step out and say regardless of the facts, what I saw is enough for me to say from a human standpoint, this is wrong … It broke something that has been quiet but very real for many of us as black pastors,” Gray said.
“In moments like this, and they’ve happened far too often, I always get texts to my phone but they won’t talk about it out loud. And in this season, silence is agreement,” he continued.
“I don’t need you to quietly tell me you’re praying. I need you to publicly say this is wrong because this is not just about race, this is about justice. And the entire Bible is about justice throughout Old Testament and to the New Testament. God is very clear that even with Israel, he said treat the alien and the stranger among you, this is how you treat them,” Gray said.
In 2018, Gray and Furtick, along with the Rev. A.R. Bernard, leader of the 40,000-member Christian Cultural Center, Pastor Levi Lusko of Fresh Life Church in Montana, and Pastor Ken Claytor of Alive Church in Gainesville, Florida, came together for a conversation on building bridges to heal the nation's racial divide.
The meeting came after Gray came under heavy criticism from members of the black community for meeting with President Trump to discuss prison reform and urban job creation.
"My job is to drive the dialogue not only into the natural but the spiritual and to identify areas where the Church can be an agent of healing as opposed to a place of further division," Gray said at the time. "The Church needs to be able to speak about the moral high ground without dishonoring people from different backgrounds."