Racism in the Church

Is there racism in UBF? Might some leaders be racist? If so, is the racism the result of a strong “honor culture”? Some may not like such questions because they interpret it as an accusation against UBF or her leaders. But questions are not accusations. Questions are important. Otherwise, we may never address hard issues. I thought of such questions when I watched an excellent video about racism: Race and the Christian (which I use as a springboard to address the uncomfortable and unspoken racial issues that may exist in UBF between missionaries and native indigenous leaders of many nations). In the video, John Piper first spoke about the gospel as the only solution to the universal problem of racism. Next, Tim Keller spoke about racism as a corporate evil and sin, which is important but often ignored or unaddressed. Finally, Anthony Bradley, a black Christian professor, raised racial issues which are uncomfortable for some white evangelicals to hear. The 3 lectures are about 25 minutes each. You can read a synopsis here of all 3 lectures. These are my reflections.

The Gospel (The first 15 minutes of Video 1). I loved John Piper’s passionate presentation and explanation of the gospel. But I sensed that some may not like his gospel presentation, because it is framed from a Reformed theological perspective. He speaks about the severe anger, wrath and curse of God against man’s sin that absolutely needed to be appeased by a sinless Redeemer. Some, perhaps, may not experience God’s love and grace through such a framework with God the Father pouring out His wrath and anger on His Son, who willingly absorbed God’s wrath against man’s sin. Some also may not like Piper’s passion and intensity, which some may perceive to not reveal the gentleness and grace of God.

Corporate Sin (Keller’s lecture is from the 26 minute of Video 1). Tim Keller spoke about sin as not just an individual matter, but a corporate matter by citing 3 OT texts. First, family sin. When Achan sinned in Josh 7:1-26, the whole family was punished and killed even though just one man Achan sinned (Josh 7:25). Second, national/cultural sin. Though Daniel himself did not rebel against God, yet he took personal responsibility and confessed sin on behalf of his ancestors who rebelled against God (Dan 9:4-19). Third, corporate sin of the entire human race. In Rom 5:12-21, one man Adam’s sin is applied to the entire human race, and one man Christ’s righteousness can be applied to the entire fallen race. Keller’s says that racism is a systemic problem that continues to marginalize minorities, the weak, and those who are not in power.

Racial Profiling (Bradley’s lecture is from the 52 minute of Video 1). Anthony Bradley, who is from Clemson, Alabama (a top football school), shared how he is always asked by white evangelicals if he is a football player. (He is rather diminutive in stature.) When he goes to a department store in NY dressed with a bow tie, he is often asked where the sale items are. There was a very uncomfortable laughter and silence when he said this. He challenged white evangelical leaders to listen to “Black theologians” and those from the Black Church tradition in order to work out the implications of racism in the church.

Racism in UBF? We may not like addressing sensitive issues such as racism. We do not want to “offend anyone” or “discourage anyone.” But addressing difficult or delicate issues and questions promote understanding and intimacy.

Horrible and Inexcusable. To my shame, I confess that I have said horrible and inexcusable racially offensive things. Semi-jokingly (but it is not funny), I would label some “easy to bring” foreigners to church on Sunday as “paddies,” which is my shorthand for “pad the number” of church attendants. I refer to my fellow countrymen as “chinks” with a sadistic grin. I would encourage others to invite white students to Bible study rather than students of other races. I wish to never ever think, say or do such things again. What I did was truly against the gospel and against the universal love of God for all peoples of all nations from every tribe and language (Rev 5:9).

Are Leaders Expected to be “Yes men”? Our missionaries are the oldest members of most major UBF chapters throughout the world. They hold the most senior position(s) of leadership, and deservedly so because of their initiative, seniority and sacrifice for the sake of world mission. But after 50 years of UBF ministry, senior leadership should be truly shared if not passed on to indigenous leaders (Acts 14:23). The new leaders should not just be “figureheads,” or “unquestioning yes men,” or “rubber stampers,” or “blind defenders of the status quo.” They should be fellow equals among leaders with their own voice. Though long overdue, encouragingly, this is being gradually attempted and pursued. Can we expect that someday, older missionaries may submit themselves to younger native indigenous leaders as they would to a missionary leader? Is this too difficult for those who are nationalistic and culturally uncontextualized? Only the gospel can bring this about through spiritual education.

Mission Reports Glorifying Missionary Achievements. Our mission reports at national and international conferences, in typed reports and messages, predominantly glorify the achievements of missionaries. If fruitful work is done by indigenous leaders, the missionary who shepherded him/her is credited and glorified. Our missionaries may not sense how distasteful this is, because this is their norm as the original predominant leaders. Don’t such mission reports steal God’s glory by highlighting the glory of Korea through the missionary? Is this not racially offensive to natives who are being “used” to glorify the missionary?

Keep Spiritual Order and Just Obey. The way these statements are used in UBF promote a legalistic social order in society taught by Confucius. Such implicit expectations gives a free pass to the older leader. Also, is this not racially offensive when the older or most senior leader is the missionary and the younger is the native leader? More than being a racial issue, the only spiritual order and obedience that ultimately counts is to God, not to the human leader.

Native Leaders should not Critique Missionaries. Our UBF missionaries are truly sacrificial and very hospitable people. But they expect unquestioning obedience and loyalty from their juniors. So, any question or critique is perceived as disrespect. This has created countless problems where 2 UBF missionaries cannot get along in multiple countries. Then the younger one has to start their own chapter or leave UBF. When the senior and junior is between a missionary and a native, racial issues come into play. It has been hard for our UBF missionaries to accept that their mistakes and sins are not just their responsibility, but also the responsibility of native UBF people. If they do not like being critiqued, is it partly because they feel racially superior to natives? But if natives do not address the sins of missionaries, are they not sinning against God? And truly loving their neighbor as themselves?

Group Pictures Center on the Missionary Leaders. Understandably, our oldest leaders at every conference are missionaries and national leaders from Korea. Many major group pictures stress the pecking order of the oldest leaders by them sitting in the most prominent center seats. This is expected in a nationalistic culture. But is this not racially offensive to natives who are always placed to the side and back with a few token national leaders sitting?

Is there racism in UBF? Is it the result of a strong “honor culture”? Is it serious? Is this too uncomfortable/offensive a topic to discuss? Are there other racially charged issues?


  1. I think there is racism in UBF just as there is racism in other churches or other institutions.  I also see there are real examples of friendships and relationships that cross racial and cultural boundaries in UBF as well.  In my workplace or in social settings, people tend to gravitate towards people with similar backgrounds, social class, and ethnicity.  I’m thankful that in UBF, I have been able to have deep friendships and worship together with people who are not all the same race or background as me.
    As a Korean, I sometimes experience racism in my daily life, either blatant racism or subtle.  Even if I wanted to embrace my American identity, there will always be someone who will say something or do something to remind me that when they see me, they see a Korean.  My actions are interpreted as being a “Korean” thing.  I can’t escape it.  
    I feel uncomfortable sometimes when I hear the dialogue or read comments critiquing or mocking the “Koreanness” of the senior leaders.  Even if it’s not meant in a disparaging way, it reminds me of the racism I myself encounter.  It makes me feel like all people see or will ever see is a Korean, nothing else.  And Korean = bad.  It’s not explicitly said, but I feel like the implication is that the solution to all of UBF’s problems is to get rid of the Koreans and the Korean ways. 
    But I’m trying to use my own feelings and subjective experience to understand the perspective of non-Koreans in UBF.  I imagine some of them also might feel discriminated against or evaluated by their culture or ethnicity.  It’s ironic to me that even white Americans might feel Koreans are racist to them in a country where white Americans have historically been in the dominate, not subordinate position, and often portrayed as the oppressor, not the oppressed. But I guess it depends on who makes up the majority in a group of people.
    On the one hand, understanding each other’s cultures and cultural differences is very helpful in understanding why people behave the way that they do.  But sometimes, I feel like it can lead to preconceived, prejudiced notions about people.  (Prejudice means to “pre-judge).  I think that in some cases, if a Korean and non-Korean UBF leader committed the same mistake, the Korean’s behavior would be more likely to be interpreted as a product of Korean culture.  But sometimes it’s just sin and folly, not culture.   And the problems in UBF are not just Korean culture either.  Some of the problems are not unique to UBF but are also present in other evangelical movements as well.
    My initial emotions and reaction when reading this article is that it’s pointing the finger at my people and me, even though I know that’s not the intention.  And honestly I was skeptical when I read this sentence, “But addressing difficult or delicate issues and questions promote understanding and intimacy,” because I feel like discussing these issues can also potentially promote misunderstandings, hurt, and defensiveness on both sides.  BUT I hope and pray that this discussion can be helpful in promoting understanding of one another.  John Piper is right in saying that the gospel is the only solution to the universal problem of racism.  I think we need to hold onto the good news of Jesus’ grace and viewing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (not just theoretically).

    • Thank you, guest, for your very helpful comments, which I am very happy to read. Very rarely, do we receive such an honest feedback from a Korean perspective such as from yourself. I hope that more Korean UBF people like yourself may help “balance” UBFriends, which has been primarily from a non-Korean perspective, including mine.

      Just as whites have an “advantage” over blacks in the US for multiple reasons, I think that in UBF Koreans have an “advantage” over non-Koreans for similar reasons. Just as whites likely need to humbly take some initiative to improve relationships with blacks, Koreans need to humbly take the initiative with non-Korean native leaders. I hope this is not racially offensive.

    • I”m glad you shared this, guest. You should be able to understand me and some of my actions recently. You expressed much of how I felt within the walls of UBF for two decades. If I do some substitutes to your words, my feelings are exactly the same:

      (note: the following paragraph probably only makes sense for someone inside UBF. I doubt an American who never experienced UBF would be able to relate, but it’s possible.)

      “My actions are interpreted as being an “American” thing.  I can’t escape it.  I feel uncomfortable sometimes when I hear the dialogue or read comments critiquing or mocking the “American-ness” of the senior leaders.  Even if it’s not meant in a disparaging way, it reminds me of the racism I myself encounter.  It makes me feel like all people see or will ever see is an American, nothing else.  And American = bad.  It’s not explicitly said, but I feel like the implication is that the solution to all of UBF’s problems is to get rid of the Americans and the American ways.”

      So I think it is only natural for some Koreans in UBF to start to feel the way they made us Americans feel for decades.

      I agree with this statement: “And the problems in UBF are not just Korean culture either.” Koreans are not the problem. I believe Americans can live with Koreans just fine. I love kimchee and Konglish.

      The key problem is an upside-down gospel that produces “benevolent dictators” who usurp God’s role in the lives of men and women. And this is rampant in Korean-Christian circles. So yes, many of the issues UBF faces are similar to other Korean-Christian organizations. But I contend that UBF’s issues (one of which is racism) stem from an upside-down understanding of the gospel in a way that most evangelical movements do not struggle with.

      Abherrant teachings have lead to a plethora of lies, scandals, and shocking advice, all in the name of “honoring God above all else” and “passing down the spiritual heritage of Samuel Lee.”

  2. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. I was hoping to refrain from thinking about and discussing UBF-specific issues for the next few days. Tonight begins the observation of the Great Triduum, the high holy days of the church, and I want to fix my attention on Jesus and join with the Body of Christ throughout the world in remembrance and worship.

    In keeping with that desire, I won’t talk about UBF today. But in response to what you wrote about John Piper (whose messages have inspired me) I would like to explain my personal reaction to preaching about the cross that focuses on the wrath of God for human sin being poured out on Jesus. This is, as you say, a feature of the way popular neo-Reformed speakers (Piper, Driscoll, …) describe what happened at the cross. But it is also found in other parts of the church as well. Notably, it is a dominant theme of worship and liturgy in the Roman Catholic tradition in which I was raised.

    The Scripture clearly says that Christ died for our sins (1Co 15:3). I take this to mean that Jesus died on the cross in my place. The awareness that Christ suffered and died for me is central to believing the gospel and living the Christian life.

    At the same time, I have a negative reaction in my gut to preaching and worship that primarily tries evoke mental images of the horrible suffering that Jesus endured at the hands of an angry God. This is difficult to explain, so please bear with me. I don’t want to start a theological argument. I don’t want to make any sweeping theoloical statements about theory of atonement, penal substitution, etc. I’m simply trying to explain how this kind of gospelling has made me feel and why, although sometimes beneficial, it did not help me over the years to draw near to God and experience the life-changing freedom from sin and law that the gospel should bring.

    The effect on me (intended or not) of this kind of gospelling was this: I sensed it was supposed to make me feel guilty for causing Jesus to suffer so much. That was, after all, supposed to be me on the cross, not Jesus. My sins were bad enough to cause me to be nailed to the cross and hang there in horrible agony until I died in hopelessness and sorrow and then went to hell to continue to suffer for all eternity. Now I know that I am a sinner. I know that I’ve done some nasty and stinky things in my life.  But were my sins really that bad? Was I really such a terrible person that I deserved to be hanging there on the cross? Church doctrine told me yes, so intellectually I thought that I should be nailed to the cross. But my emotions didn’t comply, because I didn’t (and perhaps couldn’t) feel that I was that bad. Honestly, I didn’t feel that guilty. So then I began to feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough. My Good Friday reflection became a futile exercise in trying to whip up feelings of guilt for the bad things that I did that put Jesus on the cross. I mentally lashed myself for not feeling the guilt that I should have felt because I should have been the one nailed to the cross.
    In a perverse way, I thought that the only way to experience the gospel was to take my sins more seriously and somehow experience more of the pain that Jesus felt when he was nailed to the cross. In a way, I became like those Filipino Catholics who volunteer to be nailed to crosses on Good Friday and describe it as a deeply religious experience (a practice which the Catholic Church vigorously condemns).
    It is interesting to me that when all four of the gospel writers presented the crucifixion of Jesus, none of them went into any of the gory details about the horrible suffering that Jesus endured. Their descriptions of the crucifixion were understated and indirect. The accounts were factual, not emotional. It’s as if they were saying, “For a description of what Jesus may have suffered, refer to the Old Testament, especially Psalm 22.” They seem to treat the experience of Jesus’ suffering as holy ground on which they dared not tread.
    I’ve heard some of the young people in our church describe the kind of messages about the crucifixion that they usually hear at our Easter conferences — messages that try to portray and dramatize the intense suffering of Jesus to evoke an emotional response — as unmoving, disrespectful and even irreverent. These young people can’t find the words to explain why they react negatively to that style of preaching. I’m struggling to find the words as well. Perhaps others can explain it better than I.

    • I’m with you on that, Joe.  I can’t put it in words either, but I can do without the gory details in preaching.  It helps having read about it, however.  Strangely, Edwards and Puritans (as far as I have read) did not go into gory details.  They talk about what happened theologically (sin, wrath of God, atonement, eternal punishment, imputed righteousness, etc.) but I haven’t encountered details about flogging, piercing, the pain of the crown of thorns.  Theology is more important here.  Why did Jesus suffer so much?  b/c he is fully God and fully human and completely sinless.  He bore the full wrath of God.  We can argue that some of the martyrs experienced more physical pain than Jesus.  But they weren’t sweating drops of blood before they were going to die because they weren’t going to experience the full cup of God’s wrath.

    • This cuts to the heart of the issues I’ve been having the past year and a half…and I believe what also cuts to the heart of racism: What is the gospel? For many years, I thought of Jesus’ suffering as the gospel. Suffering became the “good news”. Evangelizing then became: Here is Jesus. You get to suffer! And you’d better suffer joyfully! So I began to look for ways to suffer so that I could appease my mind. I found a small peace. But this false gospel led me to be “curved inward” and to ignore my fellow man until I was so numb and so self-focused that I didn’t want to live any longer.

      But the suffering in itself is not the gospel. There are many who suffered far more pain than Jesus bore on the cross. In fact, even the Romans crucified thousands, many far more grotesquely than Jesus.

      As you say, BenW., the real point is the theology, the “why” Jesus was doing this. I contend that we can only correctly understand the gospel and suffering when we see Isaiah correctly through the lens of grace: “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, 1 Peter 2:24). 

      Certainly we will encounter suffering and there are times we should choose suffering. But suffering is not the gospel of Jesus. The good news is that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is God’s grace to mankind. And that foundational grace is able to produce present grace and future grace in abundant overflow. 

      I further contend that Christians, then, are not called to a primary identity of a “wounded soldier”, but one of “ambassadors of grace”, living as witnesses of the abundant, transforming power of Christ to change sinners who hate into forgiven sinners who love, sinners who persist in going “my own way” into sinners who depend on the grace of God.

    • “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ) Theologically, suffering not so that we Christians should likewise also suffer (though we will), but because Jesus’ suffering and passion was necessary for our redemption.

    • “My Good Friday reflection became a futile exercise in trying to whip up feelings of guilt for the bad things that I did that put Jesus on the cross. I mentally lashed myself for not feeling the guilt that I should have felt because I should have been the one nailed to the cross.”

      My feelings exactly, Joe, for 24 years. But thank God this “Good Friday” is truly good. 

  3. Thanks, Joe, for explaining so vividly how the neo-Reformed preaching of the Cross from the Gospel Coalition folk comes across to you and others. I would think that this is not just neo-R since Jonathan Edwards and other Puritans, Calvinsts and other Reformed preachers also preached similarly.

    I would have to say that I myself do not have the experience you describe, I don’t think. I do not feel that such preaching makes me feel guilty in a manipulative or emotional way. Rather, it expresses to me the unfathomably great love of God for me that cost my God an infinite Cost that I can never repay.

    You are surely right in pointing to the understated descriptions of the crucifixion of Christ in all 4 Gospels. Perhaps, the Reformed preaching of the death of Christ is more Pauline in nature, where Paul explains in numerous ways the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which were simply narrations in the 4 Gospels without much theological explanation.

    Happy Great Triduum to you and all!

  4. Thank you Dr. Ben for writing on this topic.  Racism is ugly and most people will deny  that they are racist. But this is a topic that the church in general needs to take a hard look at. Recently, I was at Gordon College in Massachusetts, where my eldest daughter will be going to in the fall. Gordon is a Christian liberal arts college in the northeast, like Wheaton in the midwest. I attended a lecture there by Dr. Brad Wright, a professor of sociology from the University of Connecticut. He is also a devoted believer.  Out of all the myths that the media spreads about Christians, one was true: that Christians are more racially prejudiced than non-Christians. And this is true when we see that many church congregations in the US are racially homogenous. I’ve appreciated the fact that in UBF, we have a racially diverse population.  
    However, I do believe that if we preferentially seek out students who are of “North American” origin, we are committing a type of racism. Indeed, “North Americans” are as much black as they are white; preferentially seeking white students is certainly racism or at the very least favoritism. Perhaps an interpretation of “North Americans” as white Americans might be an unconsciously based cultural bias against non-whites. Increasingly, North America is composed of Hispanics And Asians. Whether they are  first or second generation, these people groups are as much American as the fifth or sixth generation Irish or German.  Recently, Pastor Abraham visited Bethlehem, Israel. He had the opportunity to meet with Palestinian Christians. They face a kind of racism because the American evangelical church pours a lot of support into the Messianic Jewish and Jewish populations,  but shows little support for their Palestinian brothers in Christ.
    I believe that it really speaks to our sense of value. One thing I’ve learned from the bottom of my heart over the years is that each soul is of the same worth and value to God, be they young, old, white, black, etc.  It also can be extrapolated further to the idea of honoring or recognizing individuals based on any human characteristic ( The “honor culture” you referred to). Whether one is an  MD,  PhD, from an Ivy League school or community college, unemployed urban poor, or otherwise, we are all worthy ( or more aptly,  unworthy) before God. I personally have repented of my biases and prejudice over the years and ask mercy to see everyone as equal , or even better, more worthy than myself. Thanks for reading my opinions and thoughts!

    • Thanks for sharing, Liz. If we have a facebook “Like” button, I would click Like many times. It is encouraging that John Piper confessed his racism in his book, Bloodlines, which I am yet to read. For sure, without the grace of Jesus, I would be a bloody racist many times over!

    • Liz, I think you hit the core of racism in UBF:

      “Perhaps an interpretation of “North Americans” as white Americans might be an unconsciously based cultural bias against non-whites.”

      I can’t tell you how excruciating it was to hear those “white” prayer topics for so many years! (Anyone pray for an HNW lately?) Yet, my conscience was so numb I didn’t really speak up against it. Even when I sat through an entire meeting where the “n” word was used by the director to describe African Americans, I just looked the other way. 

      I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I openly encourage any Korean missionary to come to Detroit if they think they already understand racism.

    • This weekend I was at a rehab center for ex-druggies and ex-alcoholics. The Pastor picks up the poor from the train station. They feed the homeless everyday, the cafeteria is full of the ripe pungent smell of humanity, but the Pastor is always there, eating the same food and talking with them. I was scared to live there just for a few days, afraid of the bathroom, beds, showers and possible contamination. I could not eat. 

      However, James 2:1-4 harshly reprimands favortism based on outward appearance (or hygiene, bodily odor, skin color, social status, race.) To put God’s word to practice is not easy. Our words and actions are more often than not inconsistent. And more often than not we aren’t even aware of these. inconsistencies. 

  5. Related to how we frame the gospel and explain the Cross, I do have a problem with this recent CT article: Why We Still Mishear Jesus. Though the author sounds reasonable, he explains Jesus’ cry of dereliction in an ackward way that I have a problem agreeing with.

    • I think that “how we frame the gospel and explain the Cross” goes a long way in explaining our naturally racist, tribalist and sectarian mindsets. I find that I must continually, on a day-to-day basis, adjust and correct my understanding.

      In regard to the CT article, the author does make some sense, but I’m still thinking that one through. When Jesus cried out “why have you forsaken me?”, was he merely pointing us to Psalm 22, as the CT article contends? I don’t know. But it does make an awful lot of sense to me.

      I still ponder these questions: Was it God’s wrath or Satan’s wrath poured out on the cross? If it was God’s wrath, is all of His wrath now gone, or is there still more wrath? Did God turn His back on His son, as a form of “divine child abuse”? If we focus on the “forsaken” words of the cross, are we then led to constantly feel forsaken, feeling as if “I’m in this life on my own, even though I’m a Christian.”?

      I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I am eager to ask, seek and knock. 

    • For what it’s worth, I understand this explanation more clearly.

    • Ben, the article “Why We Still Mishear Jesus” raises an important question. Was Jesus actually forsaken on the cross, or did he just feel forsaken?

      The article lost me with circular logic that does not hold up:

      “Is Jesus saying “I have been forsaken by God”? No. He’s declaring, “Psalm 22! Pay attention! This psalm, this messianic psalm, applies to me! Do you see it? Do you see the uncanny way that my death is fulfilling this psalm?”

      Yes Jesus pointed us to Psalm 22 on the cross. And yes, I believe the Psalm does point to Jesus and that Jesus fulfilled this Psalm. And yes, the Psalm does transition into declaring God’s victory. If so, then Psalm 22:1 is correct, Jesus was forsaken. 

      I think it is clear that “forsaken” can be temporary. There are numerous times when God declares he will “hide his face” for a time, as in Deuteronomy 31:17-18. After reading numerous articles on this topic, I see that this kind of thinking reveals my “Calvinistic tendencies”. However, I have not yet finished formulating my “theological position”. That is still in process.

      In the end, I simply take Jesus at his word. If Jesus asked the Father “why have you forsaken me?”, I would say Jesus was indeed forsaken for a moment, as in Isaiah 54:8.

  6. A response to the CT article by Hsu, which seems more reasonable/logical in explaining the death of Jesus, and which is in line with major theologians through out the ages: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/08/forsaken-for-us-and-for-our-salvation/

    • Amen to that response article.  Why was Jesus sweating drops of blood before he went to the cross if he didn’t receive the cup of God’s wrath?  Why did Jesus quote Psalm 22:1 if he wasn’t forsaken by God?

    • For what it’s worth, I think that Hsu’s article does an excellent job in explaining Jesus’ cry from Psalm 22:1. The Jewish worship and religious practices of the first century were steeped in psalms. Many of the psalms have a similar theme. The psalmist is in deep trouble and sensing abandonment by God. And yet, hoping against hope. he still trusts in God and believes that God will still vindicate. These psalms express one of the the great paradoxes and mysteries of our faith, which is that God is indeed (and especially) present with us when we feel abandoned by him.

      I fail to see why Hsu’s explanation should be provocative or controversial. At the cross, was the Father pouring out his wrath on the Son? Or was the Father suffering along with the Son? Why must it be one and not the other? Why can’t it be both?

  7. It’s great that this is more a discussion of the gospel than of racism. Great questions, Joe!
    Though this might veer toward the metaphysical, the ontological and the abstract, it had always seemed to me for decades that God and sin could never ever co-exist, even before my Calvinist inclinations that began just a few years ago. So since Jesus bore our sins, though he is God the Son, the Father simply could not be with Jesus when he bore my sins on his body on the tree. Thus, the Father had to no choice but to abandon and forsake the Son.
    Most importantly, this does not in any way diminish or tarnish the love of God. God’s love for his Son is so great that He himself was completely ripped apart and shattered because of His love for me. If anything, the magnitude, majesty and marvelous mystery of God’s love might be perceived and experienced to be even greater because of this! I do not perceive “cosmic child abuse” in anyway as alleged, as long as the Gospel is clearly communicated based on the Word and by the Spirit, for this would promote repentance and faith.

    • Ben, thanks for this discussion. I understand the inclination to say that God and sin cannot coexist. That’s one of the major themes of Israelite worship and the law of Moses. But it seems to me that the arrival of Christ and the Incarnation have to fundamentally challenge that idea. Jesus continually broke through the barriers that separated clean and unclean. He made his home among unregenerate sinners and related to them before they repented. Like you, I don’t think it is fair to characterize penal substitutionary atonement as “cosmic child abuse.” That’s a caricature and an overstatement. But I do think that PSA needs to be balanced out and reconciled with the whole of Scripture, the apostolic traditions and ancient understandings of the Trinity.  Calvinism and the Reformed confessions lend an important perspective on the gospel, but they’re certainly not the final word on the matter, nor are they the lens through which all passages of Scripture must be read. The gospels emphasize Jesus’ oneness and unbroken fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and I want to keep that in mind as I struggle to understand the unfathomable mystery of the cross. 

    • Thanks, Joe. Here’s another Reformed explanation by R.C. Sproul using the words expiation and propitiation: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/ I’m gradually comprehending a different framework for understanding the redemption wroght by Christ. I gather you do not disagree with it, except that you perhaps would rather frame it more from the perspective of love rather than justice, which the Reformed theologians emphasize.