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First Black Lead Pastor of Historically White Megachurch Makes Case for Reparations, Social Justice

Mike Kelsey, the first Black lead pastor at McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C., recently preached a sermon encouraging Christians to embrace reparations as biblical and social justice as a reflection of God’s character.

Kelsey was recently installed as a lead pastor at the influential and “historically white megachurch,” reportedly “where many Washington Republicans worship.” He preached a sermon titled “What Justice Requires,” uploaded to YouTube on March 20, that centers on Nehemiah 5:1-13. The biblical account touches on repairing a social injustice caused by economic disparity. In the Old Testament text, Nehemiah, the governor, calls on the wealthy to repent of their exploitation of the poor and urges them to forgive their debts and return their land.

After reading the passage, Kelsey contemplated modern applications of the biblical principle of repairing wrongs, “especially in light of the modern debates here in our country about reparations for slavery.”

Kelsey went on to insist that “the principle of restitution is here in Scripture” and “that justice requires not just stopping injustice, but repairing or rectifying that injustice in appropriate ways.”

“This is why in the New Testament when the tax franchise owner Zaccheaus becomes a follower of Jesus, he commits to actually repaying everyone he defrauded fourfold,” he added.

However, Kelsey cautioned against attempting to “draw a straight line between passages like this and any specific form of reparations today.”

“That conversation requires a whole host of moral, legal, economic, and practical considerations that honestly are above my pay grade,” he said. “It’s a worthy conversation. You just can’t jump immediately from Scripture to ‘this is what that should look like today.'”

But, based on these biblical examples, Christians should realize that to reflect “God’s just character,” they should be prepared to obey God’s call to “make personal sacrifices for the sake of justice,” according to Kelsey.

The Mclean Bible Church lead pastor encouraged the congregation to reflect on “the weight of this passage” and “be open to how [the] Holy Spirit might want to grow us, shape us, and lead us.”

Kelsey first gave an overview of systemic injustice as a result of sin before turning to the issue of reparations in his sermon, which gave a grand view of injustices against vulnerable and oppressed members of society.

Kelsey and David Platt, previously the sole lead pastor, have been preaching through the Book of Nehemiah for their “What Could God Do” sermon series. Platt made headlines in 2019 when then-President Donald Trump popped into the Prince William County, Virginia, church building and had the pastor pray for him.

McLean Bible Church is a multiethnic church with several campuses that reportedly attract more than 10,000 weekly visitors. According to its website, its members come “from all walks of life and over 100 nationalities.”

Watch Kelsey’s “What Justice Requires” sermon on YouTube.

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Nicola A. Menzie
Nicola A. Menzie
Nicola A. Menzie a religion reporter whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. Nicola is the Managing Editor at You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at)


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