Film & Theater Christian Living Relationships/Family Identity

What Hath the Oscars to do with Evangelical Churches?

Jarvis Williams

It’s that time of year again: the Academy Awards. For those of us who love watching good films, we anticipate seeing the different actresses and actors nominated for the industry’s most coveted award. Yet, this year, as last year, controversy looms large over the Academy Awards event due to the lack of diversity represented in the nominations.

As Jemar Tisby’s article on this issue suggests, the Oscars’ lack of diverse nominees, and more specifically a lack of African-American nominees, has caused different artists to speak out in protest against the academy. Perhaps two of the most prominent antagonists are African-American director Spike Lee, and African-American actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith stated she plans to boycott the Oscars by not attending. She urged fellow African-American actresses and actors to use their power, privilege, and influence to promote themselves, and to stop begging for recognition from the mainstream academy, since to do otherwise is to diminish dignity.

My concern in this piece is neither to affirm nor to deny anything that Smith or other African-American actresses and actors think or say about the Oscars. Moreover, this piece neither affirms nor denies that implicit racial biases affect the ways in which the Oscars select their nominees. Frankly, I do not know one way or the other. Rather, my purpose is to highlight the point that Smith’s refusal to attend the Oscars and the intent of other African-Americans possibly to boycott the event at least serves as an analogy of the kind of protest that certain African-Americans and people of color have made (and might continue to make) with respect to the evangelical movement.

As many scholars of American history and religion have documented, the birth of the evangelical movement in America is inseparable from racial hierarchy and white supremacy. As I have argued elsewhere, the effects of racial hierarchy are still being felt in the evangelical movement. This is evident by the fact that minorities are often excluded and taken for granted by many within the evangelical movement. Just look at the speakers’ list at many evangelical conferences, at the textbooks assigned at many evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries, and at the authors and books published by many mainstream evangelical presses. They are mainly white. The speakers, the breakout sessions, and many other things at many evangelical conferences and colleges, universities, and seminaries often seem to highlight, promote, and prioritize whiteness as the normal expression of the faith that has been once and for all delivered to the saints.

The above has caused certain black and brown Christians to question whether there is a place for them within the evangelical tribe. As a result, certain black and brown evangelicals have left the evangelical movement and have become examples of sad cases of how ethno-centricity and ethnic imperialism cause those who do not fit within the ethnic majority group to feel unwelcomed in certain evangelical spaces.

Of course, every individual (regardless of race) is personally responsible when she or he chooses to reject or to believe a particular expression of Christianity. However, I think it’s also true there are certain unnecessary barriers that might cause someone to reject a certain expression of Christianity. We must not think too simplistically about what pushes people toward certain expressions of Christianity. Sometimes theology, worship style, and generational challenges might be the reasons why one chooses to accept or reject a certain version of Christianity. However, it’s also true that actual or perceived racial discrimination might push certain people away from certain expressions of the Christian movement, regardless of the racial posture of those involved.

What hath the Oscars to do with the evangelical movement? The Oscars have nothing to do with the evangelical movement. However, just as fewer minority actresses and actors might attend the red carpet event each year because of the perception that the academy favors whiteness over non-whiteness, the evangelical movement as theologically diverse as it is, might see more minorities leave the movement to become part of other expressions of Christianity because of a lack of ethnic representation.

1 Comment

  1. Kam Yat Chan

    This is so true. All the presidents of all the American seminaries are white.

    Then again, who cares whether the presidents of all the American seminaries are white? Or all brown? Or all black? Or all yellow?

    Did Jesus set up a seminary?

    Did the Apostle Paul give out Doctorates?

    Did the Apostle Paul wear a cap and gown?

    No, he spent his time working as a tent maker, and evagelising on the streets and in halls.

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