NAE: Our politicized white theology has nothing to do with politics or race

NAE: Our politicized white theology has nothing to do with politics or race November 24, 2015

News item, from Christianity Today*: “What Is an Evangelical? Four Questions Offer New Definition.”

Want to know if someone is an evangelical?

Ask them what they believe.

That’s the conclusion of a two-year collaboration between the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Nashville-based LifeWay Research to improve the contested ways researchers quantify evangelicals in surveys. Their report, released today, defines evangelical by theology rather than by self-identity or denominational affiliation.

The NAE, one of several stewards of the term, hopes that the new belief-based research definition will replace older definitions based on race or politics that lead to incomplete results. For example, the report notes that “though the African American Protestant population is overwhelmingly evangelical in theology and orientation, it is often separated out of polls seeking to identify the political preferences of evangelicals.”

“Evangelicals are people of faith and should be defined by their beliefs, not by their politics or race,” said NAE president Leith Anderson.

“Stewards of the term” is one of the nicest euphemisms for gatekeepers or inquisitors you’re ever likely to see.

The tribal-boundary enforcement aspect of this project is made more explicit in the headline Charisma gives this story: “True Evangelical Christians Believe These 4 Truths.” That’s what this is all about — separating Real, True Evangelicals from all the pretenders, impostors and apostates.

To understand what drives that, just look again at the title of Deborah Jian Lee’s book, Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism. The “stewards of the term” and gatekeepers of the tribe have always, always, always been about defining Real, True Evangelicalism in a way that separates “true evangelical Christians” from impertinent people of color, women, and queer Christians.

The trick is to do that in a way that might plausibly be defended — both to others and to oneself — as something that has nothing at all to do with race, gender or sexuality.

It turns out that’s pretty easy, though, because we’ve got just the thing for that. We’ve got a whole body of idiosyncratic doctrinal distinctives that were designed and promoted — for centuries — specifically to defend racism, colonialism and patriarchy. All we need to do is list them, abstracted from their original purpose and intent, and pretend that these are just sui generis theological notions wholly unrelated to the social, economic and political contexts that created them.

Easy peazy. 

The new report identifies four key statements that define evangelical beliefs, creating what may be the first research-driven creed.**

Those statements are:

1. The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.

2. It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

3. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.

4. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

See? Nothing there about race or politics. Just a completely coincidental correlation to the doctrinal quirks produced from the hermeneutic designed and honed for centuries to defend slavery, patriarchy, and white hegemony.

Even White Jesus must bow down to the "highest authority" of the White Bible.
Even White Jesus must bow down to the “highest authority” of the White Bible.

It’s simply the glorious theological and doctrinal tradition bequeathed to us by our forebears like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the Southern Baptist Convention. And what did all those noble Christians have in common?

No — not just that they were all slave-owners, people whose theology and hermeneutic was demonstrated to be worthless, impotent, and demonically misleading when it came to the most important theological and moral question of their day. People who were completely, totally and monstrously wrong, and whose hermeneutic and theology reinforced that monstrous wrongness at every turn.

Not that, silly. The other thing they all had in common. They were all evangelicals. Real, true evangelicals.

See? Nothing at all to do with race or politics.

It’s as though these folks are showing us a screwdriver while claiming that they have no idea why it’s called that and insisting that such a tool has nothing to do with driving screws. Screws? What are those? Never even heard of ’em … We just invented this tool based on the Bible. …

But perhaps you’ve noticed another fairly large problem with the “research-driven” creed these folks want to use to police and enforce their tribal boundaries “steward the term” evangelical.

Here again is the first and foremost of their “four key statements that define evangelical beliefs”:

“The Bible is the highest authority …”

Yeah, see, that’s not a minor problem, or a merely semantic problem. It’s a huge, essential, creed-destroying, First-Commandment-violating, Christ-replacing problem.

Kind of a big deal, really.

“Christ is Lord” does not mean, and has never meant, that Christ is the second-highest authority. And those who say “Christ is Lord” — which is to say, those we have traditionally referred to as Christians — cannot ever agree with this “key statement” pushing Christ aside and replacing him with the Bible.

“The Bible is the highest authority …” No. Just … no.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Christianity Today is a publication that believes gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society.”

** “Research” there refers to polling conducted by pollsters. Polls and creeds don’t do, or attempt to do, the same thing. The confusion between the two here produces something both creepy and dumb. Let’s focus on the dumb part, because that’s funnier. I propose the following “research-driven” format for the recitation of the Nicene Creed at church:

1. One God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

A. Strongly believe
B. Believe
C. Neutral
D. Disbelieve
E. Strongly disbelieve

(Pick the answer that best describes your belief.)

2. One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten …

Browse Our Archives