Get Out!: An Explicit Call for “Black Evangelicals” to Continue their Exodus – Part 1
Over the past few years, there have been some reports of a “Quiet Exodus” from White evangelical churches by Black members. Amidst recent rhetoric about racial reconciliation, this seems to suggest that Evangelicals have failed in this task. However, the continued support of the current president among the majority of White Evangelicals may shed some light on commitments that many Black Christians see as diametrically opposed to one another. Namely, that one cannot claim to desire racial reconciliation while also in support of one of the most racially divisive presidents this country has seen in a long time.
This conflict caused me to reflect deeply on what would make Black Christians remain committed to these Evangelical churches and denominations. How do they defend their willingness to remain in these spaces? I was sad to discover that although some Black Christians use the language of the gospel and racial reconciliation, the true restraining force is what I call Christian neo-colonialism. In other words, many Black Christians feel it is necessary to remain connected with White denominations because of the ministry opportunities and access to financial resources.
In this 3-part series, I will tackle this oppressive version of the gospel message and detail how it leads to Black Christian dependency and White Christian control. I will also demonstrate how this vision of the gospel that rejects group-specific treatment leads some Black Christians to recoil from supporting projects that would benefit Black Christians specifically. I will then conclude by providing a potential model for genuine reconciliation.
In this first installment, I will focus on the biblical and theological issues involved with the level of commitment of “Black evangelicals” to evangelical denominations.
The Oppressor’s Gospel: Spiritualized Color-blindness
The “Gospel of Racial-Reconciliation” highlights interracial unity within the body of Christ by undermining responsibilities and commitments to sub-groups within the body of Christ. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 clearly highlights the unity of Christians. In fact, Jesus says that the unity of his followers testifies to the validity of his message (John 17:22-23). Consequently, the follower of Jesus has at least two motives to strive for unity with other followers of Christ: 1) The desire of Jesus (that they may be united), and 2) The aim of Jesus (so that the world may know that you sent me). It is quite clear that disciples of Jesus should pursue unity with all of his disciples.
In the book of Galatians, the equality of both Jews and Gentiles in Christ has a central role. Some Christians point to Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 to declare that identifying as anything other than “in Christ” is invalid. They highlight Paul’s apparent denial of ethnic, social, and gender distinctions to verify this claim. One may obtain exegetical clarity, however, after considering that the broader context seems to reveal that Paul is arguing that there is no ethnic hierarchy in the body of Christ.
Paul is not suggesting that people no longer belong to specific sub-groups related to their ethnicity or gender. Rather, he is saying that these things have no soteriological significance and should not hinder the unity of the body of Christ. Paul makes a similar argument in Ephesians 2 where he highlights the fact that the blood of Christ breaks down the barriers of disunity among fellow believers and prompts reconciliation (Eph. 2:11-16).
We have Multiple Identities and Commitments
Some professed Christians take the aforementioned truths and decontextualize and overemphasize them to exclude complementary truths that must be considered for a well-rounded theology of unity and oneness. They decontextualize the new identity believers have in Christ as an exclusive identity.
In other words, one is no longer Black or White, but a Christian. It seems that proponents of this position have not considered deeply the example of the apostles in Acts 6. When presented with a problem concerning the Hellenistic Jewish widows, the apostles did not miss the specific concern based on a commitment to a holistic conception of the unified body of believers. Rather, they made changes among the believers to address the needs of a specific sub-group among the whole body (Acts 6:1-5).
Those with a narrow idea of oneness also seem to miss the validity of addressing sub-categories within the unified body of Christ as demonstrated by Paul when he zeroes in on certain sub-identities among Christ-followers such as husbands and wives (Eph. 5:22-33), pastors and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13), Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 9-11), and widows (1 Tim. 5:3-16). In each of the aforementioned examples, an individual can both be identified as “in Christ” along with another identity. Furthermore, the specific sub-identity can grant a person specific responsibilities and require certain types of treatment by other believers. Therefore, recognition of belonging to any given sub-category does not negate the unity commanded in the previously mentioned passages. Being unified in Christ does not exclude one from commitments to specific sub-groups as long as these things do not conflict with Scripture.
Spiritual Idealism or Biblical Realism?
Another way that complementary truths are ignored in discussions about unity and oneness is through an overemphasis on abstract legal and eschatological concepts to the exclusion of existential realities.
What this refers to is the way some professed believers uphold certain biblical truths theoretically without considering the continued presence of sin in history (Matt. 19:8). We see Jesus making this distinction in Matthew where he points out the ideal for marriage (Matt. 19:6) but also identifies the reality that while there is still sin in the world, there must be room outside of the ideal to accommodate for human reality (Matt. 19:8-9).
In this circumstance, Jesus avoided both the extremes of legalism and limitless freedom. He provided a both/and analysis. This is insightful to discussions on racial reconciliation. There is a way one can miss the position of Jesus on racial reconciliation by exclusively looking at Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2, where Paul argues that Christians have been unified through Christ’s blood.
It is true that Christ has inaugurated the eschatological reality that believers are one unified body. However, one cannot ignore the history of racism in America and how that has created a segregated church. For example, most Christians would recoil at the notion that a woman being abused by her husband should continue to live with him based on the biblical truth that Jesus said: “What God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Most would intuitively know that when the existential factors are considered, the application of these verses must be consistent with those realities.
As the example above demonstrates, if this theological principle is not used, people can misuse Scripture in oppressive ways. Texts about unity can be used to ignore specific historical realities. If one holds to the spiritualized idealism, it may feel unorthodox to identify sub-groups within the unified body of Christ. This theology creates a spiritualized color-blindness that views Christians as a universal body with inconsequential distinctions.
There is a certain way a person can read Scripture that discredits any concern, recognition, or commitment to identities other than the “in Christ” identity. In the next series installment, we will continue with a description of the current condition of Black Churches and the way its dependency on White organizations creates a situation analogous to neo-colonialism. This will then give us the ability to consider an alternative model for reconciliation.
I may use the phrases “White evangelical” and “Evangelical” interchangeably in this series.
Campbell Roberton, “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches” in The New York Times (March 9, 2018), retrieved Dec. 12, 2019 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/us/blacks-evangelical-churches.html.
For more on White Evangelical support of Trump see Philip Schwadel and Gregory A. Smith, Evangelical Approval of Trump Remains High, But Other Religious Groups Are Less Supportive” in Pew Research Center (March 18, 2019) Retrieved Dec. 12, 2019 from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/03/18/evangelical-approval-of-trump-remains-high-but-other-religious-groups-are-less-supportive/
8 thoughts on “Get Out!: An Explicit Call for “Black Evangelicals” to Continue their Exodus – Part 1”
Also, it’s not just white people who support Trump. Rasmussen poll has black support/approval ratings for Trump over 42% this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump cracks 20% of the black vote come November.
I appreciate the response. Continued support or initial support isn’t a hair I’m splitting, CJ. The point is that if you watched the media/political oppositions’ movie where Trump was the degraded, evil, racist villain, you were wrong to adopt that position. It’s understandable, but it’s incorrect.
I’ll be honest with you. I have no feelings of remorse or regret in voting for Trump. I voted for the following reasons: 1. Trump is/was the best opportunity for minorities as a president that we’ll probably ever have. 2. I believed he had the skill set to balance the political elite, including the GOP (because I don’t trust them), and still be able to accomplish some things. 3. I believed he’d end the war on Isis and refrain from additional endless wars and the neo colonialism Jimmy mentions in Part 2. 4. I believed he’d support and nominate pro-life judges to the supreme court which are to me at least imperative for slowing the slaughter of the poor and minority communities, especially Black Americans.
And so far, I’ve been well rewarded for that vote.
CJ, I know there are those who feel hurt because they think some evil racist was made and is president while fellow Christians voted for him. You can hear this in Jemar’s podcast the week after the election. And whereas, one can easily find a White Evangelical blind Trump supporter, there are millions upon millions of white christians who voted for some of the reasons I mentioned above and other reasons. They have the same capacity for reasoned voting as anyone else. I and they didn’t buy the political opposition and media narrative of him being an evil racist.
“The argument that he is making honestly has little to do with a vote, and more to do with the continued support of a person who has used his platform to belittle and degrade image bearers. ”
So I guarantee the pain will stop, the minute one stops degrading and belittling the human, image bearing president or his supporters and viewing them as beneath oneself or worse as neo colonial racists. People have ended up feeling that way, because they believed a false narrative led by political opposition and media, not because its reality.
As for his “rhetoric”, he has predominately, if not totally left his rhetoric to the political and celebrity, pharisees and scribes of our day. His rhetoric toward Americans, including minorities, is continually positive and promoting of their image bearing value.
However, what’s your #1 example, CJ, of such rhetoric that you consider to be so racially divisive that one should not support him? I’m hear to listen, and have been for the last several years.
” Rather than creating these false narratives, I implore you to lend a hand and a listening ear to your fellow Christians and try to understand how we are truly feeling.”
It goes both ways, CJ. HOw do you think I might feel when fellow black christians burn the bridge of fellowship, exit, and on top continue to lump me and others in as neo colonial racists? Being called a racist is an extremely low view of someone in today’s world, its on par with rapist, murderer, and Hitler. It’s degrading and demeaning.
If you let politics dictate how you view others to the point in which you break your fellowship, you’re doing it wrong. The call for an exodus, is wrong. Regardless of feelings, it’s wrong.
I would love to sit down with you, Jimmy, Jemar, or anyone else to build relationship and have these conversations.
This comment seems to be assuming a lot regarding the specific support for our president, and creates a hypothetical response that isn’t explicitly stated in the article.
Jimmy states nowhere in this quote, or even in this article, that the election of a racially divisive presidential candidate “diametrically opposed” racial reconciliation, rather he suggests that the support of this president is the problem. It is well known that many people felt themselves to be picking a lesser of two evils in the 2016 election, and with that vote came feelings of remorse and regret regardless of who you picked on that ballot. At the end of the day, no one person’s morality is defined by a singular vote, regardless of the nature of who the vote is in favor of, and I do not see Jimmy arguing against that point.
The argument that he is making honestly has little to do with a vote, and more to do with the continued support of a person who has used his platform to belittle and degrade image bearers. We have seen this time and time again with prominent leaders in the evangelical community exalting him as a divine anointment, while attacking brothers and sisters who speak out against his deplorable actions and comments.
Black church members, your brothers and sisters in Christ, are feeling hurt and more marginalized by the rhetoric of our president and those who continue to support him. Rather than creating these false narratives, I implore you to lend a hand and a listening ear to your fellow Christians and try to understand how we are truly feeling.
The word of our Lord and Saviour said, Lord make them one, as we are one . We don’t worry about who will receive us so we must go where the spirit of the Lord is. For where the spirit of the lord is there is Liberty.
Joseph SLEDGE Sr
Enjoyed it’s not a white black but we’re to stand on GODLY principles nothing the bible is still right shawn THE very appearance of evil sin is still a reproach to every nation there is no white or black gospel it’s the gospel of truth heaven willn’t be divided into color,race BUT LOVE and peace for all so why should we be separated here until the CHURCH STOP RACISM THE world will always have it GOD is coming for a bride that have been washed in the blood of the lamb no one color has a advantage over thee OTHER TO have GOSPEL Preachers siding with this sinful PRESIDENT and defending his hate and womanizing and other people have to make a choice if your comfortable with IT CHOOSE you this day who you stay with but the bible says in the last days the very ELECT would be compromised, fooled bamboozled, tricked loving GOD blinds color GOD IS LOVE and LOVE is GOD you love PEOPLE NOT the sin
Nice to see you. I agree with your comment. I think much of this is talking past each other though. I don’t think most whites are saying you can’t value your identity, as Paul values his Roman, Isrealite, Jewish descriptors.
I’m sure some whites feel like black identity is being elevated above being “in Christ” while white identity is being devalued. And when whites want to be valued, blacks feel their being devalued. And so we just talk past each other, while we all want the same thing.
Personally, I believe value is in Christ’s creation and salvation of us; therefore, all my diversity can be celebrated on par with any other human being. I think that’s what we’re all aiming for too, as Mr. Butts aptly describes above. (Unless of course one voted for Trump.)
If one can not reconcile with a Trump voter/supporter, one does not understand the gospel, much less what it means to live “in Christ”. We’ll continue to fail at reconciliation so long as one Exoduses from fellowship with their white brothers/sisters over politics.
“Namely, that one cannot claim to desire racial reconciliation while also in support of one of the most racially divisive presidents this country has seen in a long time.”
People who believe this are suffering from a mass hallucination, well played and concocted by opposition politics.
If you left your church because of politics and that your brother/sister didn’t vote how you thought they should vote, that’s a bigger say about you, than them.
Repentance from such prejudice is due if you want true reconciliation. You will not get there with a fat log in your eye, while condemning white people for their voting habits.
This article makes a keen observation. Interestingly, American evangelicals don’t condemn St Paul for identifying himself with a sub-group (non-Christian):
St Paul identified himself as an Israelite
“For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites;…”
St Paul identified himself as a Jew
“(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia,…”
St Paul identified himself as a Roman
“But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.”