Carl Lentz (Courtesy of Hillsong Church NYC) Carl Lentz. (Hillsong Church NYC)

A white pastor in New York has been swept up in a race debate following a proclamation that he would not say “all lives matter.”

The mantra, he said, does not address an essential issue.

Leading up to a sermon in late September, Carl Lentz, pastor at Hillsong Church in New York City, wrote on Facebook that “at THIS church, we are not saying ‘all lives matter’ right now because this is a logical assumption that most reasonable people agree with. All lives are not at risk right now. We ARE saying BLACK LIVES MATTER. Because, right now, black lives apparently are worth LESS on our streets. It’s ‘our fight’ not ‘their fight.’ ”

The 37-year-old’s comment came just days after two police shootings left two black men dead. Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tulsa on Sept. 16; four days later, another black man, Keith Lamont Scott, was killed at the hands of police in Charlotte. The shootings ignited peaceful protests interrupted by chaos in cities 1,000 miles apart.

At least 732 people — 178 of whom were black men and women — have been fatally shot by police in the United States this year, according to a Washington Post database.

Tensions have been especially high since a summer of shootings in cities across the country. On July 5, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed by white police officers in Baton Rouge; a day later, Philando Castile, 32, was killed in Falcon Heights, Minn.

Then came the deadly assaults on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

In addition, Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black behavioral therapist, was tending to his autistic patient in Miami on July 18 when he was shot by a police officer. Kinsey survived that shooting.

Lentz said he made the remark that “black lives matter” because “I felt like to not speak on this issue, this moment in our culture, would be wrong.”

“This statement meant that IN THE CONTEXT OF THIS CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE AND CULTURE … saying ‘all lives matter’ does not address the issue at hand,” Lentz explained in an email Tuesday. “Furthermore, we find it insensitive and absolutely minimizing to the frustrated, emotional cry of many many people. So my statement was to clarify that we hear the frustration, we empathize with the frustration and we will continue to stand with people that are hurting.

“I clearly said and loudly said that anybody with a functioning brain, does not debate that all lives matter! Of course we believe that. Our contention, is that there is a debate on what lives matter MOST. To highlight one issue or one need, does not disparage another. To me, it’s just common sense and completely uncomplicated. The question has been asked ‘do black lives matter?’ Our answer is ‘yes black lives matter.’ The question was NOT do all lives matter.”

Lentz said it was “maddening to see how a pretty simple concept creates so much debate.”

Hillsong, a megachurch headquartered in Sydney, has locations in 15 countries with nearly 100,000 attendees each week, according to its website. The church in New York, which has three locations, has about 9,000, Lentz said.

With his recent comments, Lentz has joined a broader conversation in the church.

Pastor Mark Burns spoke to the Republican National Convention, leading the crowd with an "all lives matter" chant. (The Washington Post)

In August, Lentz interviewed Brooklyn megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard during the 2016 Hillsong NYC conference and asked him: “How do you know if your theology is racist?” according to the Christian Post.

“Well, let’s make the distinction between racist and racism,” Bernard, who said he is biracial, told Lentz. “Racist is a person who has a feeling of superiority above other people by virtue of that person’s race.”

“Racism is the intentional violence, oppression, marginalization, disenfranchisement against a segment of the society based on race. So if your theology gives you a sense of superiority over other people, then that theology is racist,” Bernard said, according to the news site. He added: “If you take it to the next step of engaging in acts of violence, whether overt or covert, or marginalization or the support of disenfranchisement and marginalization of a particular people because of their race, then now you have gone from being racist to engaging in racism.”

Savanna Hartman, who co-pastors a church with her husband in Tampa, said in a viral video that she was aware of her own “white privilege” and wanted to encourage other white people to fight racial biases.

As The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz reported, Hartman read a poem over the summer that she had written amid the recent fatal police shootings in the United States.

This isn’t about Black men, white women, or cops 
It’s about senseless behavior that on all sides must stop
Whites aren’t all racist and Blacks aren’t all thugs
All our lives matter, we were all bought with love

The response to Lentz’s statement last month has been largely positive, although some social-media users took issue with it — arguing that God values people of all races.

“Carl Lentz, thank you,” one person wrote in response to the pastor’s statement on Facebook. “In a time where many African Americans in this nation are hurting, it’s good to know that there are people that will stand with us and fight for us. Thanks for saying what’s needs to be said and not caring about backlash. The truth is truth.”

Another person added: “What you just said resonates with my feelings; right now it’s not all lives that are treated worthless, it’s BLACK LIVES!”

“I love this because it’s not about siding with a particular race, it’s about siding with God’s mission which is reconciliation, not just between God and man but amongst mankind as well,” another wrote. “The church should lead in addressing issues like that. We are the salt and we are the light. When we love another and support one another regardless of race, we show the world how it ought to be.”

Some suggested, however, that Lentz was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” — spouting emotionally and politically charged ideas to get people to church.

“Jesus Christ died for all people. Not just whites, blacks, Hispanics or Asians but all people. All lives matter to God so all this hype about BLM is ridiculous,” one person wrote. “This nation is in deep distress right now because God is slowly removing his hand of protection from this nation and once that happens it will get worse. We cannot continue to praise God and then one minute later protest with violence in the name of peace. It doesn’t work that way.”

Last night @hillsongnyc was special and typical.. This photo encapsulates the heart of our church.. When churches have buildings they own, it's easy to take for granted how convenient it is to simply have meetings! We have never known that.. Every meeting we have ever had, we have to rent a venue. Pay for it. And it's never big enough! So waiting in a line, to get into an overcrowded room where you just might have to stand the whole time, becomes a normal thing. It's literally a choice to be inconvenienced..We have had people leave our church from time to time and say "you know what, I just want to be somewhere smaller." Not realizing the new place they choose to go, has the same desire to grow!! It just hasn't happened yet, or at the same "speed"..I refuse to be a Christian that asks to be delivered from my own prayer requests.. "God bring revival to NYC"!! And then when he does, resent what I used to rejoice about.. No way.. Last night, hundreds of people couldn't get into our first service. So they waited two hours to be a part of the "second" one..who knows, perhaps someday soon we will have our own building. But I will never forget THESE DAYS. I'm thankful for the amazing people in our church. I'll tell you that! When comfort calls? They hang up the phone.. May that be said of all of us! Special thanks to our staff of 18 PEOPLE, that do more and carry more and graciously accept the love and complaints of people who will never know just what this road is like! You are the greatest. #occupyallstreets

A post shared by Carl Lentz (@carllentz) on

Lentz, who has spoken about race issues in the past, told The Post on Tuesday that he has been talking more and more about it because of the current political climate.

“If we want to truly combat racism in our country, we need to combat it first in our own lives. In our own churches,” he said in an email. “And because it’s so visible right now, I felt like it was a way to bring some hope out of this pain. It hasn’t been easy. But we are at least beginning to force a conversation that is long overdue.”

Lentz said that he has noticed that the vast majority of criticism regarding the conversation has been from people who are white.

“I keep telling people, I’m just not that interested right now in how WHITE PEOPLE feel about the pain and frustration of BLACK PEOPLE. It misses the entire point,” he wrote, adding: “We are not talking about black on black crime. We are not talking about every single societal ill that plagues ALL OF SOCIETY not just the black community. I am praying people see the light on this.”

“Ultimately, racism affects us all,” he added. “At its true root, it is evil and it is sinful. So I’m not sure exactly how the conversation has been so suppressed for so long.”

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