America’s Original Sin; White Evangelicals; and Black Lives Matter
America’s original sin was slavery. Most people know that historically, but what is lesser known is how many committed Christians justified it Biblically, even after the Civil War. In addition racism has unfortunately been a part of the church even up to present times.
In Jemar Tisby’s new book, The Color of Compromise: the Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, he does a masterful job of tracing the history of racism from the earliest days of the colonies to the present. Tisby is an African American evangelical who is a PhD candidate in history focusing on race, religion, and social movements in the twentieth century. I believe his voice and research is something that all evangelicals should read.
In doing my own study for this blog, I ended up interviewing two African American believers, one a senior citizen and a pastor, and one a young man in his twenties. I found while they weren’t identical in their beliefs, they shared a commonality of perspective based on being black.
My pastor friend and I got into a wonderful discussion on politics. I noted that overwhelmingly white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and support the Republican Party. The majority of white evangelicals usually cite that the three most important issues are abortion, gay marriage, and religious freedom. I asked my brother in the Lord if those three issues were his top three. Before I give you his priorities, he immediately said that those three issues are important to him and he felt almost all black evangelicals would agree. But his top three were racial justice, economic justice, criminal justice. He said that while abortion is morally unacceptable and is murder, he sees that African American people are on a daily basis so discriminated against that it affects them as human beings.
He felt that the current times have caused a regression of race relations and that he is concerned about the future for minorities in this country. Interestingly, he is also quick to say that our faith, no matter the color of skin, is the same faith. Believers share a common truth that Jesus is our savior, and is the way, truth, and the life. So if white and black evangelicals love the same God, believe in Jesus, and see the Bible as God’s inspired word, why is there such disparity about political priorities?
Not surprisingly the answer usually is based on how we experience things. I know the best argument should always be what does God’s Word say, but the Scriptures we love to quote the most are those that affect us the most.
Interestingly, the issue of race and ethnicity is talked about in the Bible on several occasions. In Acts 6:1-6, we have a clear case of discrimination where Greek speaking widows were being overlooked by Hebrew speaking widows in the daily distribution of food. Eventually the problem was solved, but it is something of note that as God was multiplying the church, natural ethnicity issues surfaced.
Later in Acts some of the Jewish Christians did not like the idea of Gentiles (anybody who was not Jewish) could come to Christ without first becoming converts of Judaism. While this concern was theological, it was also based on racial and ethnic bias.
In many of Paul’s writings, he fights for unity so that people of various backgrounds don’t see themselves as part of a “different” family. Listen to what he says in Ephesians 2:14-15, “For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups.”
The truth is that the American Church has yet to fully experience this oneness that Paul writes. I believe there are ways that we can close the gap. The most important way is for us white evangelicals to spend time with our black brethren and ask them questions as to why they might see things politically and socially different from us since we share the same spiritual DNA. Understanding and not judging is key! This understanding goes both ways with our brothers and sisters of color also trying to understand us white believers better. But since white people have been in the majority, I believe the impetus is on us Caucasians to reach out to our family of color.
Another way is to question first before judging. When many white evangelicals heard about Black Lives Matter, there first impression was, “all lives matter.” Well of course all lives matter; that isn’t the point. The reason for The Black Lives Matter movement was because of the inordinate amount of wrongful deaths of African Americans by the police. When we white evangelicals understand the underpinnings of an issue that affect our black brothers and sisters, then we come closer to what it means to be one in Christ.
Ultimately the only color that really matters is red. That is the color that saves us, cleanses us, unites us, and is what we all have running in our veins and our souls.