Evangelicals Beginning to Take a Hard Look in the Mirror Around Race and Politics

There are deep rumblings within the evangelical movement, a movement defined for decades by being mostly white and politically conservative — and more recently, pro-Trump. The current divisiveness and political rhetoric has shaken some evangelical leaders to their core and they are questioning the ways they and their religious kinfolk are living out their values.

Perhaps one silver lining to the current political mess is that it’s so jarring that a lot of people are waking up, getting active, and questioning their reality in a way that might not happen if things were “normal.”

This blog diverts from past writings, which have focused on issues important to Native American communities (and educating white readers about those issues). Instead, this blog will focus more broadly on the issue of racism, the current political climate, and the self-indictment now emerging among evangelical Christians.

Consider two recent articles that stem from dialogue among evangelical leaders held at Wheaton, an evangelical college in Illinois and Billy Graham’s alma mater.

One news account said the meeting’s purpose was for evangelicals to talk about their core values, not about President Trump. That said, Trump was the elephant in the room.

First, consider a piece by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a Wheaton alum, titled: Are these evangelicals ready to topple the idol of politics? Gerson described the Wheaton event as including: “some of the most prominent pastors, theologians and writers of the evangelical world.” He continued:

Many are disturbed by the identification of their faith with a certain kind of white-grievance populism, which cuts them off from the best of their history, from their nonwhite neighbors, from the next generation and from predominately nonwhite global evangelicalism. …

He closes with the following view of needed change:

You can’t advance a vision of liberation by oppressing the conscience of others. You can’t advance a vision of human dignity by dehumanizing others. You can’t advance a vision of peace with violent and demeaning language.

This involves an entirely different view of power — power for the sake of the powerless. It involves a different definition of influence — bringing a modicum of grace and justice into the world around us, including the political world.

This does not mean that evangelicals should be indifferent to their own rights and religious freedom. It does mean that an evangelicalism defined by the defense of its own rights rather than the dignity and sanctity of every life has lost its way. And there are signs — faint, early signs — that an alternative is coalescing.

Next, consider the speech Political Dealing: The Crisis of Evangicalism by Fuller Seminary President Dr. Mark Labberton, given at Wheaton April 16.

Labberton begins by stating: “The central crisis facing us is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been betrayed and shamed by an evangelicalism that has violated its own moral and spiritual integrity.” He continues:

This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within.  The core of the crisis is not specifically about Trump, or Hillary, or Obama, or the electoral college, or Comey, or Mueller, or abortion, or LGBTQIA+ debates, or Supreme Court appointees. Instead the crisis is caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake. …

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one.  We face a haunting specter with a shadow that reaches back further than the 2016 election—a history that helps define the depth of the sorrow, fear, anger, anxiety, and injustice around us. Today’s egregious collusion between evangelicals and worldly power is problematic enough: more painful and revealing is that such collusion has been our historic habit. Today’s collusion bears astonishing—and tragic—continuity with the past.

Labberton goes on to identify four major areas where the evangelical movement has violated its spiritual and moral character, in the arenas of: power; race; nationalism; and economics. (These issues are deeply interrelated.) Here are part of Labberton’s words on race:

Those of us who are white evangelicals must acknowledge that our story is intertwined with, and often responsible for, much of the violence and oppression around racial injustice in our American story.  The stories of Native American, African American, Latino/a, or Asian peoples in the history of the United States cannot be told truthfully without naming the role of white evangelicals who testified to a God of redemption but whose theological, political, social, and economic choices contributed to suffering and injustice.  Stories of devastation are often absent from a happier white evangelical narrative of promised-land life, or buried in a sanitized story that claims that past injustice is not relevant for people of color today—despite the fact that nearly all people of color experience racism and its implications every day around the nation, including those in this room today.

Click on the links above for the full story.

Comment: May this conversation grow, flourish, and lead to concrete change.

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