A Black Face In An Evangelical Space 2
A Black Face In An Evangelical Space 2
I’ve been wrestling with a few concepts lately and I’d like to use this blog to give practical examples of what it means to be Black in an evangelical space. Though I don’t speak on behalf of Blacks in every evangelical setting, I do, however, speak from personal experience and that of other Blacks I’ve interviewed. I want to focus this blog on how politics affect the Black experience in the evangelical church.
There are two approaches to political correctness that I see within the evangelical church. The first approach is to be political in regards to denominational preferences such as governance, staff structure and views on human sexuality and abortion. The second approach is to support the separation of church and state by not addressing topics such as unarmed Black people being shot, police reform, prison reform, immigration policies and the separation of children and parent(s), refugee programs and gentrification. This breaks my heart because it highlights hypocrisy within the evangelical church by avoiding political or racial injustices. I don't understand why the evangelical church is interested in racial unity. Let’s face it, many evangelical churches have finally allowed “conviction” to happen concerning racial unity. However, it seems to me that this is not conviction, rather, it is following the trend of “it’s cool to be diverse.” I'm speaking in general terms and not assuming that this is true for every evangelical church. I've become more and more skeptical of why churches want to diversify. Is the motive to follow a trend or do they truly have a heart for all people? And, if they truly have a heart for diversity, why aren’t they structured with diversity in mind in regards to leadership, multiple styles of worship, freedom in worship, pastoral care and family ministries? I just wrestle with the “intentionality” of racial unity now being a priority in the church. The fact that Blacks have opportunities now in this country is because it has become a political conversation over decades. Unfortunately, this conversation did not begin in the White evangelical church, and many today don't seem to want to engage with it at all. Sunday mornings remain the most segregated time of each week. This can even go beyond diversity of race. Why is it that many churches seem to segregate themselves into only one people group--a church of hipsters, a church of White, middle class, young families, a church of Black people, a church of liberals, a church of conservatives, and the list goes on. While I am grateful churches are beginning to have conversations around diversity and racial unity, I so deeply desire that the motive be to embrace the people and their cultures, rather than follow a current trend. While God created everyone in His image, He also created everyone uniquely, and that should be celebrated.
Rather than avoiding political issues, the church should embrace the tensions. The fear of being incompetent and not being able to correct an issue around controversial political topics is like kryptonite for evangelicals. The fear of not understanding the concerns within the Black community can be paralyzing. The mere thought of evangelicals mistreating and offending Black people within their own churches is something that--because it's not intentional--is hard to fathom. Because many can't fathom this, they try to fix it by starting non-profit organizations, hiring Black preachers and singers at their churches and continuing to serve in low-income communities.
This truly breaks my heart and affirms my skepticism. I believe that evangelicals truly have great and pure intentions, but as stated in my previous blog, inattentional blindness--the act of missing or negating to perceive what is right in front of you--is dangerous. I believe that many of my evangelical brothers and sisters view me as an equal. They show me love and respect. They embrace me into their world. There are always questions surrounding solutions on these issues. I've been researching Apartheid in South Africa and it has really challenged me. What would the outcome have been like if a White figure tried to lead the movement of overcoming Apartheid? Would South Africa remain segregated today and would severe discrimination still be present? How can evangelicals lead the charge on racial unity if they lack knowledge about the political challenges many cultures outside of the majority are facing? How can evangelicals lead the charge while lacking proximity with people from different backgrounds and the willingness to learn from those outside of their circle? How can a church, led only by White leaders who are silent in the pulpit concerning these issues, lead these conversations outside of the church? Perhaps, if, in this case, Black people had an equal seat at the table in these conversations--and authentic relationships with their colleagues--the church would be much further along in terms of diversity, and it would have earned the right to be a leader in these conversations within our country.
I would encourage us all to re-evaluate how the body of Christ should function. There are certain things that an arm just can’t do. It can’t see, it can’t eat, it can’t think. This same concept applies to racial unity: it will not work with evangelicals leading the charge. I say this humbly, by learning from history. Christians must start analyzing their doctrinal beliefs on the body of Christ and the equality of humans. To separate political issues and injustices inside and outside of the church is merely a passivist approach to the gospel. Politics is essential to the Black community, especially in church. It was a political movement that humanized us and ensured us of our human rights as Americans. (Not that those rights are always recognized…. another blog.) It was Black pastors, elders, deacons, and congregants protesting, marching and seeking justice--not evangelicals. Hence, the reason for MLK’s Letters from the Birmingham Jail. In this letter, he calls out evangelicals for remaining silent. Ironically, he would probably write a similar letter today. When you separate politics from the church, you in essence separate Blacks from the congregation. One must understand that cross-pollination requires education with a cultural and political conscience. Within evangelical culture, there has never been a need for political consciousness. When the system has been in your favor, why would you want change? When the government supports your non-profit with tax benefits, why would you call out the injustices? You see, this country was not in favor of all people. The political structures were not in favor of all people. Denominations did not have everyone in mind. Communities are built to segregate. Education, on all levels, is implicitly biased and does not do accurately paint the holistic picture that one needs to fight these issues.
If a church desires to diversify, there are many challenges they must first consider. They must first determine why they want to diversify. Intersectionality has both biblical and social implications. As I stated in part one, it's dangerous to view Scripture with one lens that feeds into our conscious bias. When you view Scripture homogeneously, you not only fail to see the value in intersectionality, you dehumanize others. You indirectly say that my doctrine is greater than your identity as a child of God. You're also not loving your neighbor as yourself. You don't believe that all are welcome to the table that Christ has prepared. The dehumanization of others is a serious topic in secular context and needs to be discussed within the evangelical church. There are serious questions one must ask oneself, and these questions should start with the political conversation surrounding unconscious bias. When we study academic definitions of racism and the effects of racism, we find that both the definition and effects of racism are consistent with unconscious bias. The key ingredient to racism is power. This is why many Blacks in evangelical churches feel the way they do. Equality is not within evangelical spaces due to the structure and leadership of many churches.
I want to be sure that I give examples of Jesus redefining “the law” and/or redirecting the law. Jesus was the first-born male and was supposed to be killed. His family fled to Egypt as refugee's migrating to another culture. The woman caught in adultery should have been stoned, but Jesus stood and defended her. Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman in Samaria. Though, He wasn’t supposed to be there. Jesus healed the man with leprosy so he could go inside the gates. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. These are popular passages preached consistently in evangelical churches, but there are many more examples throughout Scripture. However, it all comes down to the lens that is used. Intersectionality provides an opportunity to grow perspective and reduces the risk of inattentional blindness. Here's another perspective I hope challenges my evangelical friends: we need to feel the weight of day one on the cross, day two in the tomb and the forty-nine days before Pentecost. Many of us affirm the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. However, many seek to live in the space of Christ’s life and resurrection and miss the importance of the trial, beatings, public humiliation, hanging on the cross, bleeding to death. Yes, Jesus did rise from the grave on day three, but day one and two still happened. What better way to understand the reality of the gospel than to be in community with those who feel marginalized?
Don’t just hang your hat on having a Black friend or two. Don’t view the small percentage of Blacks that are broken or violent--as seen through media--as the sum for the whole.
I would encourage you to dig deeper into church history to better understand why there was a divide in the first place. The divide began not only in Jesus’s day, but carried on in the early church when religious leaders unjustly persecuted people for personal gain. The separation of church and state is due to the church compromising its morals and ethics because of greed, fame, power and influence. I totally understand the guardrails that churches are trying to put in place; really, I do. But if we serve a God who is greater than our government and if we follow the Son who conquered death in a grave and resurrected, then what do we have to be afraid of? God has not given us the spirit of fear but that of power, love and a sound mind. Do you believe in the power? Do you believe in love? Do you have a sound mind? As you have read this, pray about what has been said and ask God about next steps. Listening leads to processing. Processing leads to responding.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. -1 John 4:7-12