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A Departure From Evangelicalism?
A Shocking Statement About Evangelicalism
Webster’s Dictionary defines evangelical as synonymous with protestant, which broadly means “a Christian not of a Catholic or Eastern church” with more specific ties to the doctrines which separate Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. With the exception of mainstream and liberal churches, most Christians in America would align themselves with such a definition. Notably absent from this definition is a discussion of race or cultural preference because evangelicalism is primarily tied to the broad theological unity among those who continue to “protest” the teachings of the Catholic Church in favor of the gospel as presented in scripture.
Ameen Hudson wrote a thought-provoking article on Lecrae's departure from “evangelicalism". Though much could be said about the position of Lecrae and others who want to leave “white evangelicalism”, I simply want to note the misunderstanding and misuse of the term. Though Hudson doesn’t explicitly define "evangelical" in his post, he points out that "only 6% of black people and 11% of Latinos" identify as evangelical and that these statistics “give us insight into how much of a minority African Americans and Latinos are in an evangelical world that’s largely white.” This statement—perhaps unintentionally—shifts the discussion away from theology to a focus on race.
These staggering statistics ought to be heavily considered as we seek to understand the causes and consequences of such a stark reality. However, we must also ask some questions. If such a small percentage of minorities identify as evangelical, what is their religious identity (in terms of their theology)? If, according to Pew Research, 53% of African Americans are not “evangelical protestant” but “black protestant”, what truly separates them from white, evangelical Christians? Do they affirm the 5 solas? Do they protest papal authority? Is race and culture the only difference between them? These are questions that must be addressed for the sake of clarity and unity in the body of Christ.
Two Areas Of Concern
Is the “whiteness” of evangelicalism the real problem?
The term “white evangelical” has been a buzz word in secular media as well as Christian circles lately to differentiate between conservative, white Christians and other groups of Christians (especially minorities). This term is often used when black Christians are discussing highly racialized issues such as the Michael Brown shooting or the kneeling of NFL players fighting systemic racism. In those cases, there are some white Christians who stand in disagreement on the issues, and they are quickly branded, and often disregarded, as "white evangelicals".
Regardless of the circumstances, it is often unclear what is meant by those who use the term because it is not often defined in the posts. The reality is that there are some white Christians who are ignorant of the struggles of black people in America. There are some white Christians who fail to ask questions before blasting their opinion on social media. There are some white Christians who refuse to acknowledge the wrong in the history of the church. But this does not represent all white Christians who identify as evangelicals.
Equally, there has also been a trend of sound, gospel-centered, rappers, preachers, authors, and bloggers rapidly and drastically changing the content of their music, social media presence, and response to fans and followers. Their discussions of racialized issues sometimes seem lacking in gospel application. Their conversations, at times, appear to shun all who disagree with them—especially white evangelicals. The truth in their messages sometimes feels like an unloving horse pill to swallow because they are writing from a place of pain, feeling misunderstood, broken, and sometimes righteously angry at the circumstances befalling them.
We have to ask some more questions, though. Should the animosity be aimed at white believers? Why is there so much talk about leaving “white evangelicalism”? Why is this “new level” of rebellion against evangelicalism something to be so celebrated? This mentality seems to fail to address the root of the problem.
Is leaving evangelicalism a solution to the real problem?
At the risk of being shunned and considered a sellout, I am concerned that this new-found freedom and departure from evangelicalism will only lead to further isolation from white Christians in a way that will continue the segregation that began at the hands of white racism. How can we be of “one accord” (Phil 2:2) when we distance ourselves from the very people we need to be united with? If we speak our minds and people immediately (and perhaps, wrongly) disagree with us, should we turn our backs and give up on them? If black Christians consider our white brothers and sisters to be in sin, shouldn’t our solution be to restore them with a gentle spirit, watching out for ourselves so that we also won’t be tempted to commit the very sin we feel that they are committing (Gal 6:1)? Shouldn’t we call them to carry our burdens and examine themselves to see if they are in sin, as well (Gal 6:4–5)? It seems that there isn’t much of this going on right now—especially via social media where most of these discussions take place.
The Way Forward
As a Christian who is black, I deal with some of the same struggles as Lecrae. I am in a predominantly-white church in rural Kentucky. I see the police shootings, I feel the weight of threats of white nationalist rallies in my home state, and I weep over the lack of love shown by some white Christians on my newsfeed. I’ve been treated and viewed wrongly due to my race, even in churches within my community. However, as I consider Philippians 2:1–4 and Romans 12:1–8, I don’t think leaving evangelicalism will fix the problems I see. In these passages, God calls us to be united. God calls us to count others as greater than ourselves. God calls us to have the mind of Christ. If all non-white Christians leave all the predominantly white churches, we will not only be disregarding these texts, but we will be equally guilty of the sin of kinism and dividing the body into sects and factions based on race and culture. If all non-white Christians look at our white Christian brothers with disdain as “those white evangelicals”, we will be just as guilty of partiality as many of them are.
My prayer is not that we leave evangelicalism—even with of all of its flaws and imperfections. My prayer is that we cling to the One who died for sheep from all nations in the world, and beg for His grace to cling also to one another. My prayer is that we keep Christ’s high priestly prayer in our hearts and minds as we navigate the challenging racial climate in this nation and our churches.