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In this final piece, I will argue that “Black evangelicals” should (re)join historically Black denominations and assist in their strengthening in order to pursue racial reconciliation from a denominational level. They can do this by focusing their time, gifts, talents, and resources.

In the previous series installments, I explained that some Black evangelicals have adopted a theology that amounts to spiritualized colorblindness; where the oneness of believers of all races delegitimizes any pursuit of specific sub-group commitments. The second article in this series complements the first by illustrating that the majority of African-Americans attend churches within historically Black denominations and come from communities that have been systematically robbed of resources that could contribute to ministry.

This condition has caused some “Black evangelicals” to commit to evangelical denominations for access to greater amounts of financial resources. I argued these Black Christians position themselves into what can analogously be defined as a neo-colonial relationship with evangelicals. As Frantz Fanon explains, the financial assistance from the colonizer delays the pursuit of economic independence by the colonized.[1] In other words, the dominating power strategically uses its financial aid to distract its servants from pursuing independence.

I will also contend here that a more meaningful attempt at reconciliation will be possible between Black Christians within financially strengthened historically Black denominations and White Christians within historically White denominations.

To Abandon or Empower?

The 14% of African-Americans affiliated with evangelical denominations are vulnerable to a similar critique some have provided against the Black middle-class. It is a belief among some African-Americans that oftentimes when Black people excel to middle-class status, they no longer associate with or assist the masses of African-Americans who could use their financial means. They move out of predominantly African-American communities and begin to contribute their resources to the advancement of White communities.

Malcolm X was keenly aware of how African-Americans were often self-destructive to their own community advancement. In his Ballot or the Bullet speech, he argued that Black people need to learn that when they spend their dollar outside their community, the community they spend it in gets richer and their own community gets poorer. He explains the consequences of this:

The community in which you live becomes a slum. It becomes a ghetto. The conditions become rundown. And then you have the audacity to complain about poor housing in a rundown community, while you’re running down yourselves when you take your dollar out.[2]

For Malcolm, when African-Americans spent their resources outside of their community, they were not in a position to complain about the conditions because they were the cause. This principle should be considered by “Black evangelicals.”

They first need to accept the fact that although multi-ethnic churches are an eschatological ideal, in the present existential moment, most Black Christians attend churches within historically Black denominations and will probably continue to for the foreseeable future. What this means is that “Black evangelicals” are withholding much-needed resources from historically Black denominations and are rather enriching denominations that very few African-Americans attend. They are contributing to the very reasons they say make it necessary for them to join White denominations; thus creating a cycle of self-justification for their abandonment of historically Black denominations.

In doing this, the denominations that attend to the majority of the African-American population suffer, while White denominations benefit from their gifts and talents. While some “Black evangelicals” may not see a problem with this because of their spiritualized colorblindness, these conditions actually harm the pursuit of racial reconciliation.

Reconciling as Equals: Racial Reconciliation on a Denominational Level

Reconciliation with two equals is more realistic than striving to reconcile two parties that should be equal but one is dependent on the other. The attempt of a handful of “Black evangelicals” in predominantly White denominations striving to change hiring practices in churches and seminaries, arguing for more representation, and striving to change the views of White Christians on issues of race that have developed over centuries is ineffective. This places “Black evangelicals” in a perpetual posture of begging for change. Once again drawing from Malcolm’s analysis, once Black people obtain economic independence from White people, they will no longer be in a position to have to beg for anything from them.[3]

This is why the author contends that “Black evangelicals” should (re)turn to historically Black denominations in order to strengthen them and remove the need to rely on White denominations to provide ministry resources. As long as Black Christians are in a begging posture toward White Christians, it will be difficult for them to reconcile with one another.

For this reason, “Black evangelicals” who desire genuine reconciliation with White Christians should pursue reconciliation from the denominational level. This way Black Christians will have the ability to better fund their own seminaries, support their own missionaries more, and expand the ministries of their churches. When this happens, Black Christians who are being supported by the seven historically Black denominations will be able to approach White Christians from a posture of equality. Discussions for partnership can then take place, for example, between the AME church and the Southern Baptist Convention. In this way, two independent parties will have the ability to come together for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.

I am arguing for commitment to a long-term vision that will begin with challenges. The most challenging issue is convincing “Black evangelicals” to give up a method that can produce immediate results. They can point to church programs, mission trips, and seminary scholarships that all apparently prove that they are doing the right (or better yet, the best) thing. “We are getting ministry done,” they say. But what I hope to have done through this series is show that while there may be short-term immediate benefits to this strategy, it robs the Black community and ultimately hinders actual racial reconciliation.

 

[1]Frantz Fanon, “National Culture” in Ashcroft, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, 119.

[2]Malcolm X, “Ballot or the Bullet” retrieved 12/19/19 from: https://speakola.com/political/malcolm-x-ballot-or-bullet-1964.

[3]Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” in Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, edited by George Breitman (New York: Grove Press, 1990), 39.

 

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