Jules Martinez, Associate Professor of Theology at Trinity International University, recently made this observation on twitter:
People: BLM & CRT are a false gospel, threatens the unity of the church, a Marxist atheist plot.
Also people: I mean, slavery wasn’t that bad, black souls were saved, Xtian slaveholders just had blind spots, Jim Crow was unfortunate, why don’t you believe in the infallible Word?
Most white evangelicals don’t seem to actually know what either Black Lives Matter or Critical Race Theory (CRT) are. We live in a world full of disinformation. Many white evangelical leaders are working overtime to convince their flocks that BLM is Marxist, and that Critical Race Theory is—well, they never actually say what it is, only that it is bad, bad, bad. And anti-Christian, of course.
But as Martinez points out, these same people often hesitate to full throatily condemn slavery. Sure, they’ll say slavery wasn’t right—but because the Bible sends mixed messages on slavery, many white evangelicals are loath to speak more authoritatively on the evils of slavery.
Besides, many white evangelicals feel that Black people in America today are better off than they would have been if their ancestors had stayed in Africa—so why are they people always whining or asking for reparations? This view is rooted in racism. And actually, the more I think about it, the more it seems to be rooted in the “deepest darkest Africa” missionary stories evangelical children grow up hearing, as well as racist understandings of modern Africa and Africans today.
Many Americans, including white evangelicals, are profoundly ignorant about modern Africa, including the fact that it is composed of many very different countries with many very different circumstances. They’re also unaware that, had European countries not engaged in colonization, African nations and peoples would have faced far fewer challenges than they have.
Look, for centuries, European nations sent their merchants and armies into thriving African empires and nation-states and intentionally destabilized and plundered them. It’s actually worse than that, because this went on past these countries gaining independence. During the Cold War, the U.S. and other European nations set up petty dictatorships in many African nations, overthrowing democratically elected governments and creating cultures of corruption and nepotism.
Many Americans, including white evangelicals, also underestimate the trauma created by living with daily racism and discrimination. I recently heard a Black family share about their search for a home to buy, and was startled to hear the role scouting out the level of racism of white neighbors played in their search. The family explained that they have an autistic son, and can’t risk the danger a white neighbor willing to call the police on Black children for the smallest thing could pose to him.
But then, for white evangelicals, all of this—from the discussion of how European colonization affected Africa to the impact living with racism has on the house-hunting Black family—verges dangerously close to Critical Race Theory. The important thing, white evangelicals maintain, is the gospel. If we focus on the gospel, they argue, there’s no need to talk about all these other things. People need God, and that’s it.
With his tweet, Martinez illustrates white evangelicals’ race problem. And of course, this isn’t new. White evangelicals have had a race problem for a very long time. They and their parents and grandparents are the ones who fought against the civil rights movement, who screamed at Black children entering their children’s schools, who argued that God himself had intended for the races to remain separate.
Have a look at this image:
“Racial Inter-Marriage Begins with Holding Hands in the First Grade,” reads one sign. This was actually a very common argument against desegregating public schools. But notice the other sign, toward the back: “THE LORD Made us Different For a REASON,” it reads. White evangelical pastors across the U.S. South, but not only in the South, preached on this in sermon after sermon.
White evangelicals can’t pretend themselves out of this puzzle. They were not on the right side of history. And frankly, that makes their current disinterest in talking about race all the more problematic.
Oh, and the whole line about BLM being Marxist? Those sorts of claims aren’t new either. During the 1960s, white evangelicals argued that the civil rights movement was engineered by Communists. Have a look at the image below. “Race Mixing is Communism,” the signs read. You know. Kind of like Marxism.
So there’s that.
What makes all of this perhaps worse is that white evangelicals have access to theological structures that ought to give them tools to work through these things. For example, white evangelicals believe in human depravity—it shouldn’t be that hard for them to see racism as a result of human depravity. There are verses in the New Testament to the extent that all are one in Jesus, regardless of race or other feature. And there absolutely are Christians who have done all of this, and lean into it—whole Christian denominations that promote social justice, equity, and poverty alleviation.
Just not white evangelicals. And that, friends, is at least partly because white evangelicals have decided to yoke themselves to the Republican Party. Their theology isn’t shaping their politics. Their politics is dictating their theology.
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