• John C. Richards, Jr.

When Is The Funeral: The Death of White Evangelicalism


When is the funeral? A question most Black Christians ask when a loved one passes away. And many of us are asking the same question after the death of White Evangelicalism.


Let me be candid here. Donald Trump killed White Evangelicalism’s relationship with Black Christians.


No, really, he did.


And The Southern Baptist Convention provided the final nail in the coffin.


I don’t need to run the numbers. You already know them—White Evangelicals lining up to vote for Trump like pre-COVID crowds outside of retailers on Black Friday.


But voting records only tell part of the story.


For the past several years, many White Evangelicals have connected Trump’s presidency with our nation's moral future. From judicial appointments to foreign policy, Trump was endorsed and dubbed as a figure who would help America continue its Judeo-Christian heritage. As Ben Howe notes in The Immoral Majority, “Trump evangelicals have taken this earthly object of their adoration and quantum-locked him to God’s will.” Some even dispatched angels to ensure Trump remained in power. But that didn’t quite work out for them.


When it comes to fracturing its relationship with Black Christians, the mortal wound for White Evangelicalism landed in 2016 with Trump's election.


Although surprisingly, morality wasn’t the primary motivation.


The Baptized Moral Compass


In 2011, 30 percent of white evangelical Christians said: “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” In 2016, that number jumped to 72 percent—more than any other religious group in the United States.


What happened to their moral compass in five years? It was baptized in the sea of nationalism and preservationism. This moral compass emerged from the waters with a newfound passion for decrying any attempts to upend the Christian national identity or perceived core values.


Before Trump’s election, White Evangelicalism resembled a seven-layer cake. Mainstream White Evangelicals were the normal ones. While the Pat Robertson types were the uncles (and aunts) at the family reunion you only had to see them once every four years. True enough, they were in the family. But these bizarre family members were regulated to their corners of conspiracy theories and ultra-conservatism.


Somewhere along the way, the cake coalesced into an unrecognizable mess, as if a high-chair ensconced toddler had gotten hold of it and destroyed the clear distinctions that helped others appreciate the nuance within Evangelicalism.


Not Our Home


Many Black Christians now recognize that White Evangelicalism is not their home. In the words of Bryan Lorritts, “Because white evangelicalism has always treated us as a guest in her house, minorities never truly feel at home. In the coming years, more and more Black Christians will withdraw from White institutions. However, this isn’t a new phenomenon.


Our country has a long history of Black Christian discomfort (and abuse) in White spaces. Despite attempts to thrive in White spaces, Black men and women have always found it exasperating in light of the lurking hypocrisy, inconsistency, and unwarranted intolerance.


In the mid to late 19th century, recently freed slaves experienced this as they organized and met. Nat Turner’s armed rebellion created a culture of fear among White Christians.


Miles Mark Fisher noted in an early 20th-century article: “Generally, [after the Nat Turner rebellion] what independence Negro churches had enjoyed was taken away. A revised black code was enacted . . . silencing . . . colored preachers. A white church . . . and association . . . would take a Negro church as a branch; and thus the independence of the Negro church was further postponed. . . .”


A Timeless Truth


We cannot miss the timeless truth here.


White leaders who see Black “rebellion” always find ways to rebuke them or graft them back in, whether through doctrine or denomination.


There’s always a boogeyman. In 1831, it was Nat Turner. Today, it is Critical Race Theory, Social Justice Warriors, and the fear of Marxism.


Because Trump spoke White Evangelicals' language concerning these issues, it’s impossible to divorce Trump support from six Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Presidents recently denouncing (https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/seminary-presidents-reaffirm-bfm-declare-crt-incompatible/) those who categorize racism and injustice as systemic.


The SBC’s position and their voting record the past two elections have sent a clear, dual message to Black Christians who affirm and believe in systemic injustice issues in our country. We don't care about you.


The SBC is the largest Christian denomination in the United States. The SBC Presidents’ joint statement declaring the “incompatibility” of critical race theory with the Baptist Faith and Message has effectively broken its relationship with many Black Christians. And it has the potential to drag millions of its adherents in tow fighting the social justice boogeyman.


Why?


Once again, a closed group of White men held themselves out as public conveyors of truth regarding doctrine and denomination. Only this time, it had what could lead to seismic consequences.


Prominent Black pastors Dr. Charlie Dates (https://religionnews.com/2020/12/18/we-out-charlie-dates-on-why-his-church-is-leaving-the-sbc-over-rejection-of-critical-race-theory/) and Dr. Ralph West (https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/other-opinions/commentary-where-i-stand-on-the-statement-by-sbc-seminary-presidents/) both denounced the SBC’s statement on Critical Race Theory and cut all ties to the denomination.


What started with Trump has ended with a denominational dump.

White leaders who see Black “rebellion” always find ways to rebuke them or graft them back in, whether through doctrine or denomination.


The Black Church and Its Future


I love the Black Church. Because it tells a story. The Black Church's existence serves as a counter-narrative to those who deny that systemic racism pervades U.S. culture. Its very existence is a reminder that systemic racism has existed and still exists in this country, even in Christian spaces. Jemar Tisby reminds us that “…there would be no black church without racism in the white church.” But opinions differ on the state of the Black Church.


Many who have any working knowledge of the Black Church know that Eddie Glaude openly declared its death in 2012. Others believe his words couldn’t be any further from the truth. Why? For starters, Black Christians trend higher on spiritual practices than their white counterparts. Also, Black denominations remain some of the largest denominations in the U.S. Given those realities, it would appear that the Black church has survived and thrived well into the 21st-century.


In light of many Black Christians who are now divorcing from White Evangelicalism, where do we go from here?


I believe the Black Church now finds itself on the precipice of a new existence. It has the potential to re-establish an identity divorced from the necessity of any White gaze or White affirmation. It also has the potential to welcome those who have left White Evangelicalism and need to find healing in the Black bosom of Mother insert your Black Church name here.


But what will that require?


Welcoming the Exiles


How can the Black Church welcome the exiles? It will require that black churches do at least four things:



1. Establish Shared Resource Networking that Creates Church Planting and Revitalization


Black denominations do not have this in place right now, and it is a glaring need for the 21st-century.



2. Create or Shore Up Conservative Black Theological Training Institutes


We need to adequately resource these institutions (whether existing or newly created) with our best and brightest to create lasting Black scholarship.



3. Reposition White Allies as Accomplices


Allyship only requires alignment with values; becoming an accomplice requires relational capital and work.


4. Train and Mentor Future Leaders


In many instances, local Black churches die when local Black leaders die. Leadership training and development is key to the future of a flourishing black church.


I hope this post catalyzes Black Christian thought leaders and influencers interested in the Black Church of the future.

 

Questions: What did I miss? What else do you think the Black Church needs to do to maximize this moment?

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