A Gentle, Friendly Request for Southern Baptist Writers

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  • Anthony Bradley
    Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology at The King's College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute.
By Anthony Bradley, CP Op-Ed Contributor
May 22, 2014|2:23 pm

Soong-Chan Rah and I have been writing and speaking about race and evangelicalism trends for decades. That work culminated in a project we started called Gospel and Race because we believe, as the data indicates, that the future of American evangelicalism will be diversely Asian American, Hispanic, and African American in its public expression, if it's going to have a future at all.

I'm not quite sure how to say this, and I'm not trying to be a offensive or cause trouble, but several of us are wondering if our Southern Baptist friends can stop conflating issues in their own denomination with "evangelicalism" or "the American Church" or "The Church" in general. For example, many Southern Baptist writers (current and former) posting at Religion News Service, major blogging websites, research organizations, conferences, etc. have been writing on the issue of Millennials leaving the church. It turns out, that this is not an evangelical problem nor an American church problem, but a white problem in certain circles. Asian American, Hispanic, and African American Millennials are growing in number. Black Millennials are not leaving the church.

"One of the dangers of being the majority culture is that you become complacent and you don't listen," says Derwin Gray Pastor of Transformation Church on this issue. "You think your problems are everyone else's problem."

There was a time when evangelicalism had a white male face but if the data holds, that is the face of American evangelicalism's past. Many of us have been trying to make the case that there needs to be new leadership faces but few it seems are listening to us.

We tend to look at the church through our own tribal and denomination lenses. It happens. It's inadvertent. It just is what it is. Granted, there are 16 million Southern Baptists so the tendency to do this is totally understandable but I think it should be known that Asian American, Hispanic, and Black evangelicals (as well as many non-Southern Baptists) find it extremely frustrating when articles are written about trends in evangelicalism which are, in fact, trends only among white evangelicalism and, at times, are limited to particular Southern Baptists contexts–like the whole discussion of New Calvinism. There was no Calvinist resurgence among Presbyterians.

In conclusion, the friendly request is for all of us to not make our denominational problems the problems of "The American Church" or "American Evangelicalism," and the like. So, could you Southern Baptist writers (currently in, recently left, or critically provoking) not use "evangelicalism" as a synonym for "Southern Baptist"–even when challenging it like we see when we read voices like Rachel Held Evans and Jonathan Merritt. Perhaps, then, in the future a more accurate article title would be something like, "Why Millennials Are Leaving The Predominantly White "X" Denominational/Non-Denominational Churches." Your problems don't necessarily reflect trends and issues among Asian American, Hispanic, or Black evangelical churches or other denominations.

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Again, I'm not trying to be overly harsh, offensive, critical but I believe that sharpening our categories leads to better diagnosis and provides greater opportunities to be innovative about solutions. I just didn't know any other way to make this request. I think that speaking more in terms of denominational identity could help all of us anyway.

Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology at The King's College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute.
 

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