“Is a ‘black evangelical’ a contradiction in terms?” Molly Worthen asks at NYTimes.com:
In recent years, conservative white Protestants have made a special effort to reach out to black believers who share their views on theology and social mores. … Black Protestants often agree with white evangelicals on the importance of religious faith and the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. They are no great supporters of abortion rights. They ought to be natural allies in the fight to ‘defend the family’ and preserve America from the forces of secular humanism.
Yet to many African-American Protestants, ‘evangelical’ and ‘the Christian Right’ remain white words, and their voting record proves it. …
… The reasons for their alienation, rooted in history, are still with us today. Black Protestants may affirm Christ’s divinity, the Bible’s literal authority, and the other basic doctrines that white conservatives preach. But a statement of creed is not the same thing as lived religion. In many black churches, the crucible of slavery, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement has forged these doctrines into a theology quite different from the cocktail of personal moralism, prophecy and Christian libertarianism that has come to preoccupy the Christian right.
Black Protestants have good cause to eye Republicans warily and mistrust the label “evangelical” …
… those evangelicals with the most political clout have helped turn the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt into a pseudo-religion with its own Holy Trinity: the flag, the traditional family and the free market.
Meanwhile, in Christianity Today, Judd Birdsall examines President Barack Obama’s faith in the context of the “Bebbington Quadrilateral.” That’s British historian David Bebbington’s classic attempt to limn the boundaries of “evangelicalism” by pointing to four emphases:
Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be termed crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Birdsall looks at Obama’s faith in light of those four evangelical emphases and concludes that:
Obama is clearly not a secret Muslim or anything other than what he claims to be: a committed Christian. For evangelicals, the commander-in-chief is a brother in Christ.
So according to the Bebbington Quadrilateral’s approach, for evangelicals, Obama is one of us.
Except, of course, that Bebbington’s historical view no longer has much of anything to do with the American voting bloc that replaced the vibrant stream of Protestantism known as evangelicalism. Today, that tribal voting bloc defines an evangelical as a White Protestant who opposes legal abortion and civil rights for LGBT people.
That’s three strikes against Obama right there.
It doesn’t matter if Bebbington’s formula would seem to include people like Barack Obama in the category of evangelicals. The whole point of that category nowadays is to exclude people like that.