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Race, religion and the shifting of American Christian identity

Race, religion and the shifting of American Christian identity

The realignment of American politics and religion in response to the electoral victory of Donald Trump continues apace.  At Religion Dispatches; there is an article on the disappointment of evangelical communities of color with their white co-religionists.  Titled “You Fix This Mess: Post-Election, Evangelicals of Color Disappointed in White Evangelicals;” author Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans looks at the persistent racial divide in American life; and especially among those who identify themselves as evangelical Christians.

“Pastors and lay leaders who represent minority and multiethnic communities and are appalled by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency have a blunt message for the white evangelical majority that helped elect him: we’re disappointed in you, but not surprised.

For these evangelicals of color, Trump’s use of racially-charged language, his anti-immigrant rhetoric, negative remarks targeting Mexicans and Muslims, as well as the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape and his other divisive comments about women, were simply disqualifying.”

Some leaders are questioning whether or not they even should seek maintain an evangelical identity.

“Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right and chief church engagement officer at Sojourners. “The white church demonstrated on November 8th that it is more white than Christian, and has a [greater] commitment to white supremacy than it does to Christ,” says Harper.

Referencing sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson’s 2000 book Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Harper described a white evangelical church that is structured in such a way as to keep others out. It creates an alternative life for its congregants, one based on church growth models that create “huge churches full of nothing but white people, an enclavish culture where you can literally live your whole life and everyone in your church is just like you. You end up creating a situation in which your world view is affirmed and confirmed by everyone again and again.”

Some are questioning the value of continued association with the white evangelical majority.

While there are pockets of “progressive” white evangelicals with whom African Americans have good working relationships, says National Black Evangelical Association President and pastor Walter A. McCray, most other white evangelicals trend conservative, or even further to the right, putting them “miles apart in some of their values and theological understanding. It’s a strain for many African-American evangelicals…what do African Americans gain in associating with white evangelicalism as it has been hijacked by the right?”

“In other words,” says McCray “those who identify as black or African-American evangelicals must bend over backwards to explain who they are.””


Others though, reject that strategy and are committed to give new meaning to the term “evangelical.”

“We are angry, we are grieving, we are organizing” says Kathy Khang, a Christian writer and speaker based in the Chicago area, who challenges white evangelicals to listen to the concerns of evangelicals of color with more care and sensitivity. And to those white evangelicals who opposed Trump and are now considering casting off the evangelical mantle as a mark of shame, she has a tart rejoinder. “Leaving a label is one thing, but changing an understanding of what is Christian or Christ-like is another. Why do I have to leave? Why don’t you stick around and fix this mess?”


Many also say they are finding themselves motivated by the stark backlash against the progressive gains of the recent past; speaking of a renewed Civil Rights Struggle.

“This has been a wakeup call to the progressive, moderate community that we have to stand up for what we believe in and communicate it in the public square,” concludes Rev. Joshua DuBois, who headed the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama’s first term.

And Lisa Sharon Harper tells me that “a new Civil Rights movement is happening, and its locus is in people of color.” She sees evidence of it already in the “movement for black lives,” the witness of the so-called “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children), and the rising call for solidarity with the poor that mirrors the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.  “Every word of Scripture was written by oppressed people,” she says.”


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David Curtis

Is anyone able to point me to more detail on the “81% of white evangelical” number? I don’t dispute it or question it. What makes me curious is how many of that 81% number are actual church attendees vs folks that consider themselves more “culturally evangelical”. There was polling during some of the primaries that showed (if memory serves) that church going evangelicals favored Sen. Cruz but where non church going or seldom church attending evangelicals favored Mr. Trump (or perhaps another candidate).

John sandeman

As an Anglican and evangelical visiting the US for the first time I have been astonished beyond belief by which the black and white communities in your country live in different societies. Maybe NY is exceptional, but I have been living for the last few days where black (men in particular) people are concentrated in service positions. I attended a performance at the Lincoln centre (Nambucca) with one brilliant black cast member but a very
Probably exclusively white audience. I have not seen a multi-racial couple on the street anywhere. This visit has made me realise why “black lives matter” is such a necessary campaign.
John Sandeman

Rosemary Gooden

My comment is directed to Mr. Sandeman

Rosemary Gooden

Thank you for your astute observation. You nailed it! As I write this comment I am watching the Boston Pops Christmas program on public television. I’ve watched this program for years and have never seen any African Americans in the audience. The only African American I saw was the harpist. She has retired. I’m a little late in my response, but I hope you have read my comment and will continue to offer your observation. We need more voices like yours.

JC Fisher

Hello, “Obadiah” (from days of yore)! Nice to have you here in the “Land of the Free”! ;-/

I would definitely be interested in hearing more of your reflections on your visit to the USA. If they’re collected somewhere, could you provide a link?

I’m not at all surprised about your reaction to American de facto segregation (no, it’s not just in NYC—in fact, NYC may be BETTER than many other places). “This visit has made me realise why “black lives matter” is such a necessary campaign”: indeed.


Responding to this thread, if I may hypothesize: black evangelicals (I think I would prefer to say, collectively, “the Black Church”) are reacting not only to the white evangelical love affair for Donald Trump, but the stark CONTRAST of their love for Trump, and their loathing of President Obama. One of these men’s lives expresses a practiced Christian faith, and the other’s (emphatically!) doesn’t: yet which one is loved, and which is loathed?

The Black Church notices this—and will never forget it.

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