Editor’s note: This article has been updated.
Update: On September 22, Josh McDowell issued a second statement: “At a recent conference, I made comments about race, the [B]lack family, and minorities that were wrong and hurt many people. It breaks my heart to know that deep pain I have caused. It has become clear to me, along with Cru Leadership, that I need to step back from my ministry and speaking engagements to enter a season of listening and addressing the growth areas that I have become aware of through this. During this time of meeting with others and learning, I hope to personally grow and better understand how I can help contribute to the reconciliation and unity that God desires for us all.
“During this season, Josh McDowell Ministry will continue in its mission with CEO Duane Zook leading all daily efforts.”
(The original article continues below)
Evangelical author and speaker Josh McDowell has issued a statement clarifying racially insensitive remarks he made at a popular Christian counseling event in which he blamed Black Americans for inequalities they face.
“My statement as quoted does not reflect my own beliefs and I want to begin by apologizing for my words and the implications they had,” McDowell said in response to criticism his remarks at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference have received.
“My statement started by saying ‘I do not believe [B]lacks, African Americans and many other minorities have equal opportunity.’ I do believe this. Racism has kept equality from being achieved within our nation,” McDowell said in his September 19 tweeted statement. “When I said that ‘most minorities grew up in families where there is not a big emphasis on education and security,’ I made a generalized statement that does not reflect reality. I apologize and reiterate my Christian love for all races, nationalities and people groups. My desire is that we as Christians would deal with both racism and inequality as the sins that they are in order to restore the unity and equality that God desires for all.”
A statement from Josh McDowell: pic.twitter.com/MhYaL2iA28
— Josh McDowell Ministry (@josh_mcdowell) September 19, 2021
The Christian apologist assured his “friends, colleagues, ministry partners and the AACC community and conference attendees that I am taking the recent comments and questions about my talk seriously.”
McDowell, who claims to have addressed at least 46 million people in more than 27,200 talks around the world, made the controversial remarks about Black families during his September 18 address at the AACC’s conference.
The AACC was founded in 1991 and claims 50,000 members. Offering an assortment of educational resources for pastors and counselors, the AACC describes itself as “the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world.” The organization dubs its yearly meeting as “the world’s premier Christian counseling event.” Its 2021 conference held September 15-18 was themed the “Way Maker World Conference,” and included Dr. Ben Carson, Dr. Daniel Amen, Darryl Strawberry, and several other notable figures in addition to McDowell as keynote speakers — listed as “The World’s leading experts in professional, pastoral, and lay counseling” on the event website. More than 6,000 people attended the conference in Orlando and online, according to a press release.
In his address, McDowell said:
Everybody says, ‘Well, Blacks, Whites, everyone have [sic] the equal opportunity to make it in America.’ No, they don’t folks. I do not believe Blacks, African Americans, and many other minorities have equal opportunity. Why? Most of them grew up in families where there’s not a big emphasis on education, security. ‘You can do anything you want. You can change the world. If you work hard, you will make it!’ So many African Americans don’t have those privileges, like I was brought up with. My folks weren’t very rich, in fact they were a poor farming family. But the way I was raised, I have advantages in life. Ingrained into me: ‘You can do it! Get your education! Get a job! Change the world!’ And that makes it [unintelligible] different opportunities.
His remarks gained traction online after Aaron New, a psychology and counseling professor at Central Baptist College, tweeted what he said were quotes from McDowell’s remarks passed on from a friend at the conference.
Psychology professor and blogger Warren Throckmorton also published a 77-second clip of his remarks on Twitter.
Here is the pertinent clip. pic.twitter.com/R78eO0sDjT
— The Throckmorton 🇺🇦 (@wthrockmorton) September 19, 2021
Throckmorton, who sat on AACC’s board of advisors in 2003, told Faithfully Magazine that McDowell made “two major errors” in the excerpt of his conference speech.
“First, he affirms a racial stereotype about people of color; then he re-affirms his own white privilege,” he said.
Psychologist Alan E. Godwin, reacting on Twitter, took issue with McDowell’s apology.
“What Josh did here was all external. He made a racist statement, apologized for misspeaking, [and] ended with a denunciation of racism. I didn’t hear him address anything internal—like what harbored attitudes lead him to make the statement, remorse for holding them, and repentance,” Godwin tweeted.
After the tweet about McDowell’s conference remarks went viral, the AACC removed the 81-year-old speaker’s keynote speech from its website. Faithfully Magazine attempted to contact the AACC and its president Dr. Tim Clinton about McDowell’s remarks, but was not successful by press time.
However, Faithfully Magazine was able to access a recording of McDowell’s speech, which the apologist titled “The Five Greatest Global Epidemics.” The subject of his address was the Christian church’s ability to operate in the next five years in light of these “epidemics” — which he lists as critical race theory and social justice, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and pornography.
The first part of McDowell’s keynote focused on critical race theory (CRT), which he describes as “the greatest threat to the church in America” and the world in the recording. He goes on to take issue with the legal movement’s emphasis on addressing structural racism over and above “individual redemption.”
“CRT can offer nothing to transform the individual to realize how fortunate we are to know Christ personally. We have a message that can literally transform individuals…” he says at one point.
McDowell, defining “social justice,” states that “All people should have equal access to wealth, health and well-being, justice, privileges, and opportunities regardless of their legal, political, economic or other circumstances.” It is at this point that McDowell seems to veer off script to give his personal view on “equal opportunity,” claiming that Black families limit themselves by not emphasizing education and security.
As a bestselling Evangelical apologist, McDowell’s focus on contentions over CRT is par for the course. His own eponymous ministry is affiliated with interdenominational Christian parachurch organization Cru, which suffered an internal shakeup over disagreements about diversity and racial reconciliation efforts. McDowell’s son and fellow apologist Sean McDowell has also hosted several anti-CRT conversations on his website. The McDowells co-authored the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World.
A previous version of this article erroneously described the AACC as a nonprofit and referred to Tim Clinton as the organization’s founder; he is its president.