Updated: May 10, 2022
White Evangelicals and Black Christians
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on March 25, 2021)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Sara Bishop
Conservative evangelical leader and author Beth Moore recently decided to step away from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The popular author has been an outspoken critic of the verbal abuse, sexism, and misogyny within the evangelical Christian Church and voiced deep concern about evangelicals' embrace of former president Donald Trump. "I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism," Moore said. "This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it." Evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 (81%), and 75% voted for him in 2020. Compare this to the 90% of Black Protestants that opposed Trump in 2020. As a person who identifies as a Black Protestant, the dividing line is not about our stances on abortion or the Second Amendment: instead, it is about race. We refuse to vote for a party that continues to pass laws and policies that disproportionately affect Black and Brown people and deny our humanity. In The Long Southern Strategy, University of Arkansas professors Dr. Angie Maxwell and Dr. Todd Shields outlined the 50+ year strategy that the Republican Party used to win over disaffected white voters by taking advantage of racial anxieties and using feminism and religion to skillfully manipulate the people who live in the 11 states of the old Confederacy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously noted that "11 o'clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours in Christian America." These divisions were the reality then and continue to be our reality now. Pastor Curtiss P. Smith of The Historic St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville stated that "history speaks very clearly that churches had a very prominent role in racism, which we know is sin. The Church, in many cases, has been the face of racism and has heavily assisted in making it a part of the norm...racism could have never taken root without theological support and moral justification." Religious movements are temporal, and one cannot separate them from the historical and cultural context in which they are born and nurtured. Acknowledging the Church's complicated history with race and misogyny does not require shaming people for the sins of another generation. However, the choice to remain silent or deny historical and contemporary manifestations of these sins only drives deeper divisions. I have lost friendships with several of my White evangelical friends and colleagues who choose to remain silent on these issues or emphatically insist that race is irrelevant. As I reflect on what it means to be a Black Christian, I think about how the Black Church has been the sole source of survival for many folks. It is a place where Black children learn to hone their public speaking skills, where adults learn management skills otherwise off-limits in the dominant culture, where we find comfort during times of struggle, and where we are taught to love our Black skin regardless of the harmful stigmas and stereotypes perpetuated elsewhere in our society. The Black Church as a haven was especially important during the Trump administration. Over the last four years, being a Black Christian meant hearing our nation’s leader empathize with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville by saying, “very fine people on both sides”, or hearing our nation’s leader tell Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” It meant navigating personal and professional spaces in Northwest Arkansas where large numbers of white evangelicals voted and supported Trump, wondering—fearing—that me and my family may be unsafe in our beloved community. Given the legacy and stubbornness of racism in our society, I fully expect the Black church to function in the same way for my Black daughter as it has for me. The Black Church has been revolutionary in helping me, and many others find refuge from the racism we experience in virtually all other spaces. But must it continue to be a refuge from the White evangelical church as well, as Beth Moore's public exit suggests?
During the NWA Christian Community's Response to Racism forum this past summer, Pastor Hunter Bailey of Christ Community Church offered a path forward:
"If we are going to walk in humility with God, it means that we are first and foremost listeners and not talkers…to be humble is one of the principal postures we have to have if we are going to learn, particularly White folks, who have had the mics for a long time in the dominant Christian culture, it's time to pass the mic and to listen to our brothers and sisters of color and to value their walk with Jesus. This is one of the things that the White church has not done well."
I firmly believe that the truths of Christianity transcend race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. Yet, it is up to us to repair the flawed institutions responsible for mediating those truths.
A Brief History of "The Christian Church and Black Americans"
Africans who were brought to America as enslaved peoples began to embrace the dominant culture religion of Christianity within three generations. (Lundy, 2017). Sadly, this did not guarantee that Black folk would have full and equal citizenship. As early as 1667 many colonies such as Virginia, South Carolina, and New York instituted laws that would keep Blacks enslaved even if they accepted Christianity. The law in New York and in South Carolina simply stated, “no slave shall be free by becoming a Christian” (Higginbotham, 1978).
Rev. David K. Brawley of St.Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY gives more information about the Black Church via this short video:
Helsel, P. (2021, March 9). Prominent evangelical Beth Moore says she's no longer a Southern Baptist. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/religion/prominent-evangelical-beth-moore-says-she-s-no-longer-southern-n1260336
Higginbotham Jr., A.L. (1978). In the Matter of Color. Oxford University Press.
Lundy, S. (2017). History Of The Black Church. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/jhDBUj5jb38
NBC News. (1960, April). Meet The Press: Interview with Martin Luther King Jr. https://www.nbc.com/meet-the-press/video/meet-the-press-m-l-king-jr/3587050
Sherwood, H. (2020, November 6). White evangelical Christians stick by Trump again, exit poll shows. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/06/white-evangelical-christians-supported-trump
The Historic St. James Missionary Baptist Church. (2020, July 12). The Chrisitan community's response to racism. https://www.facebook.com/thehistoricstjames/videos/2734797906755755