Why Blacks Are Really Leaving White Evangelical Churches
The political positions many white evangelical pastors and churches have taken have alienated many black people.
The exodus of blacks from white evangelical churches is real and understandable. People tend to gravitate towards communities that they can identify with and that they believe identifies with them. Unfortunately, the political positions many white evangelical pastors and churches have taken have eroded that sense of identification for many black people.
What has to be acknowledged, and what is contributing to the mass exodus, is that this is the worst climate in America in terms of race relations since the Civil Rights era 50 years ago. As it was the case then, it is now; black people are looking for faith communities that identify with this undeniable reality. The degree to which white evangelical churches stick their heads in the sand and don't deal with this is the degree to which they will no longer be relevant to people of color: they will continue to misrepresent Scripture, prostitute the Gospel for political gain and even betray the heart of real evangelicalism.
The issue of relevance, understanding and identification with black people goes all the way back to slavery. The dirty history that white evangelicals either don't know or don't want to deal with is the fact that during the era of the slavery, most church denominations owned slaves. Denominations purchased slaves in Africa and then brought them to certain cities in the US and the Caribbean. These Christians justified their ugly behavior by only preaching and highlighting certain Scriptures that they manipulated to support their heinous beliefs. Part of the brilliance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders was that they challenged white churches in particular to embrace all of Scripture, not just the verses they used to justify their warped beliefs. Now 50 years later, we are back at the same place.
Similar to the issue of slavery, the approach of many white evangelicals amounts to a misrepresentation of Scripture. Jesus confronted racism, prejudice, sexism and even ageism and made it very clear through his behavior and teaching that God did not condone or support any of those issues. The confrontation of these issues is clear in the Gospels and continues through the rest of the New Testament. In Luke 4, when Jesus begins his earthly ministry, He quotes a passage from Isaiah 61 to announce that he came to minister to the poor, the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed and the brokenhearted. He came for all people, not just a select few. He even instructs his disciples through the great commission to love, and minister to all people. This is clear in Acts 1:8 "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". Jerusalem is your current surrounding and comfort zone. Judea means you must cross geographic boundaries, Samaria means you must cross racial and ethnic boundaries, and "the ends of the earth" means you must cross all boundaries. Authentic Christians are called to erase boundaries, not create them and hide behind them. This is basic Christianity 101, but the behavior of many white evangelicals misrepresents this truth and that is unconscionable for many people.
Similarly, white evangelical pastors and churches also prostitute the Gospel by only focusing on selected Biblical issues that are important to their political agenda, rather than focusing on all Biblical issues. They appear to only care about the issues espoused by our current president. While some of those issues are important, they are very narrow, they don't represent the whole of Scripture and don't include things of importance to Jesus, especially race relations, equality, poverty and the newly formed #MeToo movement.
Of course, another big issue turning away blacks is that white evangelicals are deafly silent on the many moral failures of President Trump. Isn't it strange how these same evangelicals attacked Bill Clinton for his many failings, yet turn the other cheek on Trump only because he is aligned on certain issues that are important to them? This is the height of hypocrisy.
If evangelicalism is going to be relevant, is has to deal with the whole of Jesus' message, especially the social ills afflicting everyone, not just white evangelicals. In 1947 Carl F. H. Henry published The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, which is considered the manifesto of evangelical Christians. In it he clearly expresses the need for evangelicals to address the social ills of race, poverty, sexism, war and more. He maintains that without addressing all of these, evangelicalism runs the risk of no longer being relevant, and he further believes that is the responsibility of every believer.
If the Gospel is not for everyone, then it is for no one. Evangelicals have a moral obligation to preach to all of it.
Only that will bring the races back together, as God desires.
Van Moody is the founding pastor of The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and author of The I-Factor: How Building a Great Relationship with Yourself Is the Key to a Happy, Successful Life.