Spiritual Bypassing

A sister in Christ approached me on social media recently concerned that I am falling prey to humanism and legalism with my “narrative” on “racial reconciliation.” She expressed multiple concerns, but the heart of them boils down to a problem I have encountered in many shapes and forms: “all you need is the Gospel!”

Various versions of this view are used to sweep aside every Christian and biblical appeal to social reform or call for change—especially sacrificial changes in behavior, but also repentance or even sometimes acknowledgment.

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

I wish White Americans would just owe up to the debts they and the government they run has incurred – mainly debts-by-injustice, but also financial debts – and pay up, so we can just get on with life.

But only (some) White Americans – generally liberals – are interested in (partially) obeying God in this matter. Preferably paid for by ‘society’, and not personally.

White American Conservatives aren’t interested at all in getting right with poor blacks: and thus, getting right with God, who is represented by the weak and powerless.

White Americans won’t give legal restitution by money. Not by time in service. Not by reforming the legal system. Not even with lip service.

Not with anything at all.

I am implored to preach only Christ as the foundation, “the beginning and the end,” because my own alleged narrative “collapses on itself.” I must instead, “Offer the solution.”

The truth is, I do offer Christ from foundation, beginning to end. And I do offer the solution. The problem is that it is just not the solution many conservative Christians want to hear. Many seem to prefer an easy “gospel”-only solution. It is an abstracted Christ who does not command us to pick up a cross and follow him afterward. It is an easy spiritual experience in which we preach reconciliation to others and then watch the minorities scrape and crawl to achieve it without our participation.

It’s almost like one assumes the white parties actually have no role in racial reconciliation, despite the history and despite our dominant social position. It’s as if when the subject comes up, the assumption is that those who are appealing for racial reconciliation (generally, by default, the persons of color themselves) are the ones who need to come to Christ and get reconciled to him. Once reconciled to him, they will obviously see the error of their critical race theory and cultural Marxist ways, and drop all that nonsense about reconciliation. When they finally shut up about all that, they can then be reconciled to the rest of us in our tidy white Reformed, Baptist, or Evangelical spaces.

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

“Powerful people don’t need to carry crosses.
Only the poor and the weak need to carry crosses.”

That’s not the way it’s going to work.

In my case, it was suggested that since I think we should use biblical standards for social justice and social change, I was accused of ignoring the gospel and preaching works. I think everyone involved in social Reformation has encountered this.

The phenomenon overall is, of course, called “spiritual bypassing.” It is when people use spiritual-sounding catchphrases or pat answers to avoid the conversations difficult for them. (Of course, this phrase itself was coined by a Buddhist, so now I am really in hot water!)

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

Truth is truth.

Even when a Buddhist says it.

Spiritual ByPassing on Racism Has  Deep History

This phenomenon, when applied to race, slavery, or racism, has a deep history in the United States. It was used in various ways by Bible-believing Christians to keep slavery legal, stop pulpits from preaching against these and related evils, to hold at bay white Christians who would have made changes, to keep blacks oppressed, etc., etc. I wish white Christians today could see how much their behavior parallels this, what we all now see to be evil.

In The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, I devote considerable space to how “Two Kingdoms” theology was used to suppress any official church criticism of racism or slavery for a long time. This was effectively a church sanction in favor of keeping these institutions and social conventions legal. There are countless examples of this in official church declarations, comments and writings from individual ministers, and from various individuals.

[…snipped grim string of examples…]

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

It just goes on and on.

But, the White Christians who wanted to preserve slavery (and then segregation) lost. Despite their power and position and wealth.

And, they are going to lose again.

And again.

And again.

Until they repent, and start personally upholding the Law.

And get the government they run to obey the Law, too.

There is only One Law, and all – men and nations, corporations and churches – are accountable to it.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Matthew 28:28-20, King James Version

The nation must obey the Law of God, and thus restore what it has stolen from blacks. Note that many of the victims of this systematic theft are alive today, as the book The Color of Law indicates.

This includes all the government oppression, from both the race-driven, hateful Progressive Democrats in the first half of the 20th century…

(who offered government-funded ladders up for whites, and only for whites)

…and the race-driven, fearful Republicans from the 1960s onwards, who demanded a heavy hand on blacks smashed by Democratic policies (both by denial of opportunity given to whites — especially in the 40s-60s in “The Golden Age in America” — and by the poisoned chalice of the welfare state from the late 60s onwards).

Aside: the welfare handouts that Democrats give to Black Americans today is an intensely cynical, contemptuous echo of the truly massive educational and housing subsidies Democrats gave to White Americans.

In Chapter Ten, Rothstein explains why many black people simply cannot afford to move to white neighborhoods. This, too, is a result of policy: for instance, the government prevented African Americans from accessing employment in the decades after slavery, excluded them from New Deal and post-World War II work programs, and failed to enforce nondiscrimination laws against racist companies and labor unions. Local governments systematically overtax African American communities, who often pay several times what they legally should in property taxes. And housing has always been overpriced in African American ghettos: throughout the 20th century, landlords knew black tenants would pay several times more in rent, compared to white tenants.

Jennings, Rohan. “The Color of Law Plot Summary.” LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 27 Jan 2020. Web. 4 Aug 2020. LInk here. My post on the book here.

This is chapter 10 of the book: nine chapters of legalized injustice before, two more chapters and an epilogue after.

All this government-backed robbery of poor blacks by the rich whites will be paid for.

Why? Because God demands it.

Better to provide actual justice and restitution, even in part, than just rebelliously refuse to lift a finger, and bluntly challenge God to do a thing about your refusal to uphold His law.

To be sure, what kind of “works” did James have in mind immediately here? They were works of overcoming class and social distinctions, prejudice, and sacrificial, material giving across those lines:

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Dead. Dead, I tell you. A professed faith in Christ, at the foundation and from beginning to end, that does not have social outworkings following it, is not true faith. It is dead.


For some reason, however, when it comes to specific applications, particularly social applications, of the law in this regard, Christians short-circuit, get defensive, and retreat to pious platitudes and pat answers. With such means they engage in spiritual bypassing. It is as if our Christianity is an easy Christianity that ends with a profession of faith and church attendance. Anything that calls for the slightest uncomfortable change in behavior is condemned as a legalism and bypassed. It is like we want easy justification without sanctification. But sanctification follows a pattern—the pattern of God’s law—and it necessarily means good works, which he has prepared for us to walk in.

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

Perpetual Work Ahead

A lived faith is a real faith.

Pay restitution to those you wronged, and do it early. If your government did what is evil, get your government to repent, and restore what was stolen.

“There is only one law: the same laws apply to a man, as to a business, as to a nation.”

“You get less interest on the debt, and you gain more goodwill – from those you have wronged, and from On High as well.”

What’s the relevant theological problem here? It is the fact that racial reconciliation and “wokeness” (or awareness) is not about justification, or getting saved. It is not a hamster wheel of alleged works-righteousness. No. Properly conceived, it is simply an aspect of sanctification. Put in this light, it is so simple to understand in terms of classic theological orthodoxy.

We could even agree that there will be a lifetime of works and sacrifices still ahead of us in the area of racial reconciliation. So? This is not an indictment of the genre or the cause; it is an indictment of our failures heretofore and of our total depravity.

A lifetime of “perpetual” works ahead of us is not an argument against the potential truth or need for those works. Look at the parallel theological concept: After all, every single orthodox theologian in the world will admit that we will never be fully sanctified in this world before we die and go to be with Christ. Every one, without exception. This means that as far as sanctification is concerned, this life is one of perpetual good works, perpetual repentance, perpetual repair (including of personal relationships). Does this mean we should condemn and jettison the doctrines of sanctification and the third/moral use of the law as “endless grievances” or “endless works”? God forbid!

Well, racial reconciliation is one of those many areas of good works and sanctification out there on the table—and it will be for a while. Are there folk who abuse it and create actual objectionable legalisms out of it? Sure; just as there are preachers who make legalisms out of every other area of doctrine: worship, family, sex, and a hundred others. Do we completely ignore all of these other areas because some abuse them? No, we work all the harder to correct them and move ahead.

This is exactly what we should be doing on race, racial history, racial reconciliation, friendship, works of mercy, charity, hospitality, education, business, insurance, finance, and countless more.


Too often, we come across the bruised and bloodied, or just naked and hungry bodies of our brothers and sisters of color lying in the road to Jericho, and we do everything we can to spiritual-bypass to the other side of the street. From the opposite curb we may call out, “Christ is our hope!” as we do what is most comfortable, safe, and inexpensive for us, and do it as quickly as possible.


We are specifically told, for instance, to make the cross of Christ an ethic by which we treat others (Rom. 15:1–3; 1 Cor. 10:24, 31–33; 2 Cor. 5:14–15; Eph. 5:2, 25; Phil. 2:1–11). This means acting like the Good Samaritan ourselves, too. If Christ is the Good Samaritan, then you can read these Scriptures, and where Christ is either stated or implied, replace his name with “the Good Samaritan,” and at some point you must realize that the Good Samaritan’s cross-racial good works must become part of the good works to which we are called as well.[4]

That is not denying the Gospel. It is realizing the full extent of the life to which the Gospel calls us, and in fact, to which our faith demands, lest our faith be judged dead.

“Spiritual Bypassing” on Racial Reconciliation by Joel McDurmon

White America – and the government they run, liberal and conservative alike – might has well get started now on restitution for goods and liberties stolen, or the debt load will only get bigger, and the price for payment rises from harsh to crushing, and on to overwhelming.

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