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It has been said that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, meaning black and white Christians are still very divided. I’ve often struggled with the racial divide amongst Christians, especially when we believe in the same God. Very few African American Christians would consider themselves to be evangelical, because for many the term often implies a white racist. Many White evangelical Christians on the other hand would deny being a racist and would consider themselves Christian conservatives, believing in biblical authority and inerrancy of scripture. The 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump is challenging white evangelicals to prove that evangelical is not a code word for “white racist.”

What Then Is An Evangelical?

The National Association of Evangelicals highlights historian David Bebbington’s summary of evangelical distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life-long process of following Jesus
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity[1]

Notice that these distinctives do not include racial bigotry or allegiance to a political party. Donald Trump’s campaign success has caused alarm amongst some conservatives, but it also reveals that he had more support than many believed. Evangelicals who hold Christian values over politics are left wondering how it is that Trump has gained any traction with evangelicals. Trump owns a casino and strip club, and has been divorced twice and married three times.

Jim Wallis, author of America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, says, “It’s time to name Trump’s dangerous rhetoric for what it is. It is not only racist, but also fascist, with all the dangers that ideology implies. The truth is that we have seen this before. And it’s time to tell the truth.”[2] Evangelicals who support Mr. Trump will find it difficult to explain their support for someone who is clearly not converted.

Evangelical Divide

In light of perceived evangelical support for Donald Trump, Russell Moore, a leading evangelical and a “nice guy”, is struggling with being identified as an evangelical. In a Washington Post op-ed Moore says, “It wasn’t even intentional on my part. I just noticed a few weeks ago that I had stopped describing myself to people as an ‘evangelical.’ I had begun, subconsciously, to say that I am a ‘gospel Christian’…The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[3]

While Moore struggles with being called an evangelical in the era of Trump, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas said that if Trump wins, “Evangelical Christians will have a friend in the White House.”[4] Public Religion Research Institute found that support for Mr. Trump is growing amongst evangelicals. In November 2015, only 37% of evangelicals were in favor oh him, but by January 2016, support had grown to 53%.[5] Moore and Jeffress show that there is a tug of war for the conscience and conviction of evangelicals. It’s not the first time, and will not be the last.

Wrong Side of History

For evangelicals, politics and religion have been consistent dance partners. During the civil war, the forefathers of modern evangelicalism supported the continuation of slavery. Several leading denominations, including Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian split over the issue of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention – the largest evangelical denomination in the country- was formed in 1845 by Southern churchmen who split from northern Baptists after a national Baptist agency refused to appoint a slaveholder as a missionary. It was not until 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology for the institution of slavery, admitting that they were on the wrong side of history.[6]

In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split when one of the church’s five bishops, James O. Andrew acquired slaves through marriage. When Andrew refused to free his slaves, dissidents drafted a Plan of Separation, in order to organize their own ecclesiastical structure.[7] Tension between northern and southern Methodists grew worse in the years leading to Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and eventually the Civil War. It was not until 2000 the United Methodist Church saw the error of their ways and issued an apology regarding slavery.[8] While many evangelicals have made efforts towards reconciliation, Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy once again presents a challenge to the conscience and conviction of evangelicals.

Does Race Matter?

This month, at least 500 evangelicals and other conservatives have agreed to meet with Mr. Trump to discuss his faith and values. Southern Baptist Convention President, Ronnie Floyd, who will attend the meeting, has expressed his disappointment that all candidates have avoided a conversation about racial reconciliation in America.  Commenting to the Baptist Press, Floyd states, “We have a conversation that has been totally ignored, and it’s one of the greatest problems in the country today. I would like to ask Mr. Trump, whoever else is left and ends up running … ‘what do you plan on doing about that?”[9]

As an African American, I hope more of my white evangelical friends would see that the issue of race is no longer a sleeping giant, but one that’s alive and poised to strike; now is the time to remove it. If white evangelicals hold true to Christians values over racial bigotry, more African Americans may be willing to consider themselves evangelical.

Will Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy expose evangelicals’ Christian values or racial bigotry?











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