Putting pressure on poor and minority people—as traditional evangelicalism does—to just work harder, practice respectability, pray, have faith, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, etc. only plays into the hands of the Empire. Moreover, we see that while blacks are some of the most religious people in America, religion hasn’t delivered us. Why? Not because faith is bad, but because American-style evangelicalism is oppressive and designed to protect the powerful. It glosses over corporate injustice. It turns a blind eye to evil. It distorts forgiveness and reconciliation. It proof-texts white supremacy and American exceptionalism. It privatizes faith. It places all the responsibility on the victims and practically none on the victimizers. And it consigns God to the abuses and inequities inherent in our system. God doesn’t want to change the system, it teaches, God wants to change you, as if God is impressed with a country where college tuition has shot up by 1,120 percent, medical care by 601 percent, food by 244 percent, housing 380 percent while the minimum wage has plummeted by 5.5 percent and the pay of the average worker has only risen by 10 percent.
Indeed, beyond encouraging charity, traditional evangelicalism has little to say about structures that keep people poor. Rather than trying to fix the world, it bends us into compliance with the world and narcotizes us with empty eschatological emotionalism. D. L. Moody, a darling of white evangelicalism, taught that the world was a wrecked vessel and that the church’s ONLY responsibility was to get people on the right boat before it sunk. The boat going to heaven while the rich enjoy all the spoils now. All of this plays into the hands of those who are privileged by the current social structures. Liberation theology is about saving BODIES as well as souls. Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. well understood this. “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men but not the social conditions that strangle and cripple the soul is a dry-as-dust religion.” That’s about right! Traditional evangelicalism needs to be born again!
The Rev. Fredrick D. Robinson is a Baptist preacher and just graduated with a master’s degree in Christian thought at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also a 2014 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ.