The white singularity: The racial divide in American evangelicalism

white evangelicals and Trump

By Alan Bean

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” President Trump said. We can’t help asking why he had to throw in the bit about “many sides,” as if the folks protesting violent racism can be compared to the men with torches, or the crazed individual who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Unfortunately, the dreadful events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va., conform to a well-worn pattern.

On Aug. 14, 2016, the star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers remained seated during the singing of the national anthem. It was the first preseason game of the year and nobody noticed the quiet gesture. But two weeks later, a reporter examining a promotional photograph noticed that Kaepernick wasn’t standing during the anthem and decided to ask him why.

Fans who had been following the star quarterback on social media weren’t surprised by his answer. For over a year, his posts had been featuring quotations from Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. “I couldn’t see another hashtag Sandra Bland,” he told the reporter, “Hashtag Tamir Rice. Hashtag Walter Scott. Hashtag Eric Garner. This list goes on and on. At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand as a people and say this isn’t right?”

A year later, Colin Kaepernick is a 29-year-old football prodigy without a team. He is accused of disrespecting the military. People regard him as a traitor to his country. Because his girlfriend is Muslim, rumors circulated that he had converted to Islam. Some even speculate that Kaepernick is a clandestine ISIS agent and they have doctored photographs to prove it.

Fifteen years before Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Barbara Lee rose to address the House of Representatives. It was three days after 9-11 and twisted bodies were still being dragged from the rubble. An Authorized Use of Military Force resolution was rushed through the House and Senate with hardly any debate. “The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force,” the resolution read, “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

“Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world,” Lee told her colleagues. “This unspeakable act on the United States has really, really forced me, however, to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction.”

God told Barbara Lee to vote no, lest America “become the evil that we deplore.”

“I am a person of deep faith,” Lee told incredulous reporters in the wake of her no vote. “I think my vote was based in my religion and my faith. Where else do you go to at a time like this?”

Editorials across the nation denounced Lee as an anti-American traitor. So many death threats poured in that Lee was given around-the-clock police protection.

On June 29, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee quietly adopted an amendment, written by Lee, which would repeal the AUMF.

Why are people like Colin Kaepernick and Barbara Lee so threatening to white America?  And why are so many white people (white evangelicals, in particular) attracted to a politician like Donald Trump who advertises his racial bias at every opportunity? (more…)

The curse of Ham: Black Baptists question their place in the SBC

By Alan Bean

Dwight McKissic couldn’t believe his ears and eyes. The towering black Baptist pastor from Arlington, Texas, had flown to Phoenix for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting to submit a resolution condemning “the ‘Alt-Right’ Movement and the Roots of White Supremacy.” First, the resolutions committee refused to present McKissic’s resolution to the convention. Then McKissic asked the “messengers” to override the committee’s decision. They refused.

“A Resolution Condemning White Supremacy Causes Chaos at the Southern Baptist Convention” The Atlantic headline read.  Richard Spencer, the alt-right poster boy, tweeted his delight.

Eighty-one percent of American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and, among Southern Baptists, support for the brash real estate mogul was at least that strong. Russell Moore, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, derided the Republican nominee at every opportunity. Moore was predictably incensed by the candidate’s three marriages, his association with casino gambling and the “Access Hollywood” fiasco, but Trump’s flirtation with white nationalism and his talk about a border wall and a ban on Muslim immigration were the real deal breakers.

Since Trump rode to victory in October, the backlash against Moore has been intense. Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas has threatened to withhold a million dollars from the SBC’s Cooperative Program unified budget plan. Robert Jeffress, another Dallas pastor, is saying “evangelical elitists” like Moore just didn’t get it.

Black Baptists like Dwight McKissic want to know what the “it” is that Moore doesn’t get. If the white nationalists in the alt-right proclaimed Trump as their candidate, and if Trump named an alt-right hero as his chief adviser, what did SBC support the president signify? Were white Southern Baptists supporting Trump despite his ties to white nationalism, because of those ties, or because they consider his views on race irrelevant?

In other words, how much had the overwhelmingly white denomination changed from the bad old days? Did Russell Moore speak for a new SBC; or was he a prominent aberration? (more…)

Enemy Love and American Politics

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As liberals and conservatives battle for dominance American religion has been co-opted by both sides.

Conservatives want to shore up the mainstays of traditional American culture: a civil religion suitable for teaching in the public schools, limited government, a strong defense, personal (especially sexual) responsibility, and free enterprise.

Liberals want an open, inclusive society marked by free inquiry, a concern for the common good, and respect for religious, cultural and sexual diversity, and opportunity for all (not just the millionaires and the billionaires).

For obvious reasons, both armies in the culture war have enlisted variants of the Christian tradition.

Christians make crummy culture warriors because their lives are shaped by the Great Commission. We believe that all authority in earth and heaven has been given to Jesus, and it is therefore our goal to observe all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded us. If Jesus says we must love our enemies we will endeavor to do so. If Jesus counselled radical generosity, hospitality, forgiveness and inclusion, we will strive to be radically generous, hospitable, forgiving and inclusive.

Christians have the courage to believe that God is like Jesus. Following Jesus isn’t our way of earning our salvation; radical discipleship is what saves us from this sinful and corrupt generation. Jesus lived what he taught and it put him on a Roman cross. By raising Jesus from the dead God was saying, “This is my son, my beloved, listen to him.”

Does that sound like the American Christianity you have been exposed to? If not, it’s because most American religionists have been coopted by the culture war and, like I say, culture warriors make crummy Christians.

The form of civil religion conservative culture warriors defend beats up on “the least of these.”

Liberal culture warriors don’t want Jesus, or any other authority, telling them what to do. They prefer an interfaith brand of spirituality in which all religious traditions are equally valid. As a consequence, all religious communities are marginalized. By definition, Christians are people who let Jesus tell them what to do.

Don’t get me wrong, Christians aren’t trying to force the way of Jesus on anybody. Love and coercion are antithetical. Christians love those who disagree with them, even when the disagreement gets violent. That is the way of Jesus.

But the Christian church is not a debating society. We may disagree about what radical forgiveness, love, generosity, hospitality and inclusion look like, but these fundamental commitments are not negotiable. In the church, Jesus calls the shots. (more…)

In Praise of Political Preaching

be-the-church

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump signed an executive order designed to make it easier for churches to participate in the political process. It was little more than a good will gesture to the white evangelicals who supported him by an 80 to 16 margin, but it gave moderate white Baptists a chance to advocate for church-state separation.

“Partisan politics have no place in our pulpits,” Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced. “In fact, it’s the absence of that very thing — partisan politics — that gives us the power to speak with moral authority on issues of the day.”

Is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship speaking with moral authority on issues of the day? Click on the advocacy link on the CBF website and you will learn that the CBF’s approach to advocacy is “individual and systemic, global and national, state and local, relational and non-partisan.” And because it must be non-partisan it can’t have anything to do with politics. Which is why the next sections of the page explains why the CBF isn’t in the business of dictating morality to its constituency.

In an editorial in the Baptist Standard, Marv Knox asserted that Trump’s order “set back the cause of true religious liberty at least 63 years” and “will further polarize our nation — ripping many Christian congregations apart and severing them from meaningful connection to their communities, while continuing to disenfranchise minority faiths from society at-large.”

There’s a lot of meat in that paragraph; so let’s break it down. (more…)

Criticizing Trump is easy; creating a spiritual alternative is really hard.

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Last year I spent 250 hours driving around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for my job as a hospice chaplain. As I drive I listen to sermons and lectures from cutting edge biblical scholars, theologians and preachers, and podcasts and YouTube videos produced by post-evangelical hipsters. One simple declarative sentence keeps rising to the surface: “God looks like Jesus.”

A second oft-repeated phrase flows inevitably from belief in a Jesus-like God: “Jesus is Lord; and Caesar isn’t.”

These religious sentiments may sound commonplace but, growing up, nobody told me that God looks like Jesus, and nobody asked me to choose between Jesus and Caesar. People just didn’t talk that way when I was a kid.

But when the preachers, pundits and professors announce that God looks like Jesus they are tentative, almost apologetic. (more…)

Why we ignore most of the Bible most of the time.

too much drama

We come to the Bible seeking a little relief from the drama in our lives and what do we find? A text cracking and sizzling with fear, rage, resentment and wonder. If you want an escape from the drama, the Bible is the last place to look. Wherever you look in holy writ, the dramatic tension is palpable. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The fireworks are an inevitable outgrowth of the Bible’s big story. Working through the children of blessing, God aims to bless the world. Simple enough. But what if the children of blessing don’t want to bless the world? What if they squander their holy inheritance in the service of strange gods like money, sex and power? What is God supposed to do then? (more…)