Get Out!: An Explicit Call for “Black Evangelicals” to Continue their Exodus – Part 3
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. 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.
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.
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.
Frantz Fanon, “National Culture” in Ashcroft, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, 119.
Malcolm X, “Ballot or the Bullet” retrieved 12/19/19 from: https://speakola.com/political/malcolm-x-ballot-or-bullet-1964.
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.
5 thoughts on “Get Out!: An Explicit Call for “Black Evangelicals” to Continue their Exodus – Part 3”
I’d like to address the statement made concerning Richard Allen and say this: I have no beef with Richard Allen. His actions in 1816 are absolutely defensible within the society he lived in. We are however talking about 2020, a year that has many significant issues (complicity with Trump, attempting to make invisible hard truths about racism, etc.). In this year 2020, the question is whether African American churchgoers should decide to leave WHOLE denominations to which we have an equal birthright. Southern Baptist identity is not merely white, it comes from a legion of black pastors, ministers who have contributed to the makeup of what constitutes the southern Baptist identity as much as white evangelicals. To cede our place in this denomination is to tacitly imply that Southern-Baptistness can be equated with whiteness without dispute.
To deal with a second point, the dearth of scriptural references in this portion in this article is somewhat mitigated by the emphasis on
Scripture in the first installment. However I find part of your response (or at least your chronology) problematic since it implies that we begin with scriptural insights and develop using nonscriptural methodologies. If we are to engage with racism in the church properly, God’s Word should be our main “weapon.” When it is relegated to merely legitimizing an academic/historical approach, then it is not really the center of the argument but a “tacked on for necessity’s sake” corollary to appease a Christian audience.
Aaron, you may want to refer to part 1 of this series. It will help you understand what I say here. I engage with the scriptures in that post. However, I do want to point out that the disconnect many people have may be based on a flawed hermeneutic. Some do not take into consideration the fluidity of scripture when it comes to particular historical circumstances. What I mean is that they get stuck on Biblical idealism and miss how the Bible also takes a realist perspective. Let me give you an example: The Sabbath law forbid work on the sabbath. Jesus however gives details to a certain circumstance that would give a person an exception: If your animal fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, wouldnt you pull it out? The implied answer is yes. In other words, Jesus didnt not cite a biblical authority in this senario. He took a realist position and suggested that the surrounding circumstances allowed for a setting aside of the Sabbath law to deal with a unique issue that took place on the sabbath day. In the first part of this blog series i deal with biblical texts and affirm the concept of reconciliation. However, I point out the unique circumstances of the Church in the USA and use thinkers from this context to help reflect on our circumstances. If we take your position, Richard Allen, the founder of the first Blk denomination was sinful because he sought to found a denomination tht wld not be based on racism. If you hold that position, you may be beyond the scope of ppl I am willing to dialogue with. If you affirm Allen’s work, then you may want to re-read this whole series and show me where I depart from his faithful ministry.
Aaron Turner Jr.
This article was sad for me to read. It did not have the smell of the scriptures upon it. Malcolm X was quoted numerous times, but there was no quoting of people like Jesus, Paul, or the other apostles. While what Malcolm X says can certainly be thoughtful at times, he is not authoritative for the black Christian–Jesus and the apostles are.
This article, I believe, sadly is the fruit of what happens when we as black Christians start to see ourselves as black first, and not as a Christian first. Think of this: It would have been much easier for the Apostle Paul to have called on Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to worship separately, it would have saved Paul a lot of headaches and likely would have been easier for both groups. However the apostle wanted to see Jew and Gentile worshiping together in the same space. I hope that both black and white Christians can increasingly grow in humility and begin to increasingly worship together more often, genuinely making space for one another’s cultural differences and expressions, and humbly forgiving one another when in the same space we don’t love each other well.
Here’s a link to a mayor’s comments that reinforces the facts in this Witness article:
This is not for you.