What’s Jesus got to do with it? The present Black Christian dilemma
Content Warning: This post contains a description of domestic violence.
As we approach the inauguration of Joe Biden and the official end to the Trump regime, it is important for us to take stock of what the past four years have meant for Black Christians. For some of us, these last four years have meant taking up our Ancestors’ mantle and walking in the prophetic tradition of the Black Church. For others, the last four years have necessitated a quiet exodus from white-dominated churches. For a few of us, these last four years meant linking arms with Trumpian Christianity and fighting to maintain a status quo that neither dignifies nor benefits Black people.
The dilemma that many Black Christians now face is how to pick up the pieces after all that we have endured over the last four years.
Over the last four years, many Black Christians’ relationship with the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump has been rife with tension. We have experienced pushback nearly every step of the way as we fight for equal rights and dignity. There are countless stories of Black Christians who left predominantly white Churches and denominations because of both overt and covert racism. These relationships’ fraught nature reminds me of a well-known scene in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It.
The heart-wrenching “Eat the cake Anna Mae” scene depicts Ike and Tina Turner at a restaurant with their friends Jackie and Fross. The group is celebrating that they will be touring with the Rolling Stones. At this point in the narrative, Tina’s individual popularity eclipsed their group’s stardom, and Ike was jealous. His jealously reaches a boiling point when two white kids ask for Tina’s autograph.
Ike attempts to reassert his dominance over Tina by ordering a cake and demanding that she eat a piece of it. When Tina refuses, he shoves the cake in her face. Tina retaliates by throwing a cup of water at him, and Ike hits her. When Jackie attempts to intervene, Ike knocks her to the ground as the rest of the coffee shop’s patrons look on in horror.
Jackie gets up and yells at Ike, “You only got to hit me once,” as Tina tries to convince her to stay. Jackie tells Tina that she will be a “dead woman” if she continues to put up with Ike’s nonsense and storms out. As Tina sits back down, Ike cooly comments on how good the cake tastes. The scene concludes with Fross—who has been silent until this point—pleading with Tina to “just eat the cake.”
Domestic violence is wrong, and so I don’t wish to trivialize someone else’s struggle to make a point. Bearing that in mind, I believe that Black Christians have experienced a form of spiritual and psychological violence at the hands of Trumpian Christianity for the past four years that should be taken just as seriously. Of course, this struggle extends beyond the Trump years, but Trumpian Christianity is the catalyst for the problem’s current iteration.
The scene from What’s Love Got to Do with It, then, can be viewed as an allegory for how Black Christians have related to Trumpian Christianity (if not the entirety of white evangelicalism) for the past four years.
Ike represents the Trumpian Christians who—high on their sense of power and dominance—attempt to control the Black Christians in their ministries, institutions, denominations, and churches. Their violent displays (such as firing staff members and asking people to leave) serve to put Black Christians in their place. Their drug of choice, Donald Trump, empowered them to be open about their unsavory views. They free based Trump’s dangerous rhetoric. They took a bump off of the scripture references that powdered his speeches. Trump got them so high that they ignored his anti-Christ rhetoric and practices. When Black Christians pushed back, “Ike” violently shoved White Jesus Cake into our faces, Eurocentric theology and all.
Tina is the Black Christians who have stayed in fellowship with believers who behave like Ike. The “Tinas” just want to worship God in peace. They recognize that “Ike” can be problematic and harmful, but they hope that if they stay with him they might be able to change him. They fear what might happen to them if they leave. To them, “Ike” holds the keys to their spiritual “career.” If they leave, will they find a place for their ministry? Will they be able to find another “Ike”…I mean pastor…as “solid” as the one they have now?
Jackie is all of the Black Christians who have peeped game on “Ike” and said, “You only got to hit me once.” The “Jackies” saw what was coming and did their best to prepare the Church for it. The “Jackies” are the Black Christians who the “Ikes” perceive as trouble and who the “Tinas” try to get to stay. For the past four years, the Jackies have tried to fight off Ike and protect Tina; many have given up on them both. Jackie may or may not attend a Black Church, but she surely isn’t eating the White Jesus cake that Ike is handing out.
Fross represents all of the Black Christians who stand beside Ike while he does violence toward Tina. They might try to hold him back a little, but they are just fine to sit back down at the “table” and plead with Tina to “just take the cake.” They don’t want to make Ike angry, lest they lose their standing with him.
After that fateful scene in What’s Love Got to Do with It, we see Tina make her first attempt to leave Ike. Although Ike forces his way back into her life, Tina eventually leaves him for good. She thrives, and her career soars without him.
Our metaphorical Tinas also have the opportunity to flourish without their spiritual Ikes.
Trumpian Christians have shown us their entire selves. Many of them invoked the name of our Lord as they sought to disenfranchise millions of Black voters. Black Christians do not need the Trumpian version of White Jesus; we need the brown-skinned Jewish man from Nazareth to be our Lord and to reign over all,
The doors of the church are open. Will you choose to serve?