Evangelicals, Racism, and the Sunday Morning Sermon

Having failed in any attempt to read anything but the internet all week, I thought I might instead take a turn away from my stated habit of blogging about my beautiful house and my comforting stacks of unread books, to tease out some of the heartbreak in this long interesting piece. It’s about the quiet exodus of Black Christians out of Evangelical Churches, and I commend it to you, as usual, more than anything I might say here.

Just one caveat, though. I’m a total coward. And I don’t like to blog about things, in general, that I know nothing about. And my understanding of race in America falls into the bucket of: no matter how much I read, I feel like I can never get a handle on it. This being so, I find I have a lot more emotional energy about the stance of the west towards Africa, which is its own very messy and troubled relationship, though not so impossible for me to understand. When I come to think about America itself, I always feel like a stranger in a strange land, and therefore should be exceptionally reticent to speak. Add to that that it’s very hard for me to self identify as an evangelical, because so much of cultural evangelicalism seems completely perverse to me, not to mention not wanting to face it’s myriad deep theological problems.

I do, though, feel confident enough to point out that part of the problem has to lie in the church’s deeply rooted, generations long, total mistrust of scripture, which manifests itself both in terrible preaching and in the worst theology ever. Look at these two lines from the article. First this one

Above all, for many members, there are Pastor Morris’s weekly messages themselves: wry, often self-deprecating, sprinkled with biblical scholarship and often affectingly personal.

and then this one

The Rev. William Timothy Glynn, wearing a sharply knotted necktie and a silk pocket square, began his message, on Elisha’s taking up the mantle of the prophet Elijah. It was less a sermon, he acknowledged, and more a collection of observations; among them was that we inherit things from the past for a reason, and thus should not quickly discard them.

The two damning phrases, in case you can’t find them, are ‘sprinkled biblical scholarship’ and ‘less sermon and more collection of observations.’ But if that’s not enough, which you might feel is just me being nit picky, there’s this.

The woman explained that a Trump victory had been prophesied and handed Ms. Pruitt a two-page printout, which began: “The Spirit of God says, ‘I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this.’”

This line, along with almost the whole article, leaves me veritably speechless. But gathering my wits together, I want to point out that most of problem is not about a vote for Mr. Trump. Whether you voted for him or not is not the issue. Lots of good Christian people did. Just as lots of good Christian people voted for Obama. People vote for people. That’s how the system of government in this country works. What’s so unhelpful is one’s theological worldview being so tightly wound around a political process, or person, that one can’t read the Bible any more.

And, that tight winding happened too long ago, when pastors shoved their bibles over to the margins of their desks and stopped keeping up with their Greek. And started buying lighting and sound equipment. There are so many steps, so many small decisions between What Book Should I Preach Through Next, oh wait, maybe I could also rely on the ancient church calendar to help me get through the scriptures in a coherent and comprehensive way and ‘sprinkled with biblical scholarship’ and ‘less sermon more observation.’

I say this because the Bible actually does speak to racial division in quite a firm way. And the text is understandable. Just like it’s understandable on the essential matters of salvation, marriage, human identity, and what on earth we’re all supposed to be doing with ourselves. It’s not impossible to understand. It’s quite clear. And if it was systematically read and preached, and if the church believed it, Evangelicalism wouldn’t be in this terrible and heartbreaking muddle.

But the Bible is too scary to read. And it’s certainly not worth touching in a deeply sustained way on Sunday morning. And so guess what, the church in the west is not looking like the church any more. Which is a tragedy, because it could have been a useful help, as so many people say about Trump, for such a time as this.

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