One thing that has driven me to distraction for years is the manner in which black Christians - especially many black pastors - have allowed themselves to be manipulated by racist white evangelicals. Here in Virginia, The Family Foundation ("TFF") - an organization that traces its history to many of the the white supremacists who backed "Massive Resistance" rather than integrate public schools - has played black pastors for fools for decades and turned them into TFF's trained circus dogs. Positions on abortion and gays have been cynically used by TFF to rally these pastors to support Republican candidates who once in office are enemies to minorities in general and blacks in particular. A piece in Religion Dispatches speculates that just maybe in the face of the Trump/Pence regime and racist GOP agenda black Christians and evangelicals are waking up to the fact that white evangelicals are NOT their friends. Here are excerpts:
But this new administration has changed everything for George and evangelicals of color across the nation. The fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals supported a candidate who channeled white nationalism is not lost on minority believers. Nor is the unending news of travel bans, appointments of white nationalists, mass deportations and racial hate crimes. It has forced a reckoning.Today, believers of color are redefining their relationships with white evangelicalism in ways that could dramatically shift the landscape. Already, people of color make up a larger portion of the entire American Christian population than before, and church growth experts predict they will make up the majority of the Christian population after 2042. And their values are largely at odds with the white evangelical support for Trump; pre-election surveys showed that nonwhite evangelical Protestant voters, which included black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific Islander Protestants, supported Clinton over Trump by a very wide margin (67% vs. 24%), according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers, the very people who could keep their churches, denominations and institutions from the attrition that has many Christian institutions and leaders genuinely worried for the future. These days, evangelicals of color are talking next steps. Their endeavors run the gamut, but the ones gaining steam include leaving evangelicalism altogether, reframing the evangelical world as a mission field as opposed to a place for spiritual nourishment, creating ethnic safe spaces or staying firmly planted in evangelical community to combat racism from within. It’s too early to tell which will prevail, but the urgency and organization happening within communities of color point to a fundamental shift in the evangelical landscape.
Like these evangelicals of color, in the aftermath of the election and that party, George began to question everything.
For one attendee of a California megachurch, the questions began after her pastor made a sermon joke about how King Nebuchadnezzar’s Median Wall was built because he “got the Mexicans to pay for it.” The audience roared with laughter, but “Jan,”* who is Korean American, and her Mexican-American husband, ushered their children out of the service. Jan asked her pastor for a public apology. When he shrugged off her request, she was shocked. He had been a spiritual guide for years. He officiated the funeral of her son. But now it was as if they didn’t know each other. She resigned from her role in the children’s ministry, and her family has left that church for good.
Jan is one of many evangelicals of color choosing to depart from white evangelical spaces. For some, that means leaving churches and communities while for others, it means not supporting evangelical conferences or organizations that are predominantly white. Many describe these moves as “divestment” from white evangelicalism: they’re moving money, bodies and souls elsewhere.
“For some people, the divestment began before the election,” says Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, associate professor of practical theology at Mercer University and author of Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength. “One friend said the election was the ‘final nail in the coffin of my relationship with the evangelical church.’”
She sees firsthand how nearly “everyone is reconsidering whether or not they want to remain under the moniker ‘evangelical,’” including minorities, white people, the young and the old, “because the word ‘evangelical’ has been truly hijacked by a movement to maintain the political, economic and social supremacy of whiteness.”
For those staying, they must contend with a dominant white theology, shaped in the cauldron of privilege, which suggests that a successful life springs from an individual’s good, moral choices alone. It fails to recognize how unfair policies and societal structures harm the economic and social wellbeing of those subject to those systems.
Those who stay must also contend with a politicized evangelical movement fundamentally shaped in the late 1970s by a desire to preserve segregation. As documented by historian Randall Balmer, the religious right galvanized evangelicals into a political movement when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax exempt status of racially discriminatory Christian schools. Today, evangelicals of color staying to “combat racism from within” are working against a deeply entrenched culture.
Shortly after the party, George resigned from his post as the executive pastor of his megachurch. After seeing the white evangelical role in electing Trump and after that toxic party interaction, George knew it was time for a change. His departure wasn’t a rebuke of his church, but of a faith culture that denies its brutal legacy while indoctrinating its followers to perpetuate it.
“I think evangelicalism is the empire that’s about to fall,” he says. “It needs to be dismantled because it’s too powerful and it’s all about money.” Rather than centering the needs of the marginalized and justice work, George sees a toxic faith system that platforms capitalism, unsustainable growth, a prosperity narrative, flashy services and pastors who hang with celebrities. To George, “everything” is at stake. “We’re at the part of the story where Jesus goes into the temple and flips over tables.”
Better late than never.