Without question, white evangelicals are a powerful force in American politics.
They have more influence on public policy and the presidency than at any point in modern history.
And well they should as 81% of white evangelicals voted for President Donald Trump and were the single most important factor in 2016 that led to Republicans capturing the White House and both Houses of Congress.
Not only do white evangelicals have significant influence over public policy, but their economic and religious clout is undeniable.
They own and/or control all major Christian media outlets. They, by far, have the largest megachurches, multi-million dollar ministries, multi-million dollar budgets; and, oversee all major seminaries in America.
One would think given all the above, that white evangelicals would be more religious, attend church more often, read the Bible more often, pray more often, believe more firmly in heaven and hell; and, above all more than any other demographic, would absolutely believe that the Bible should be taken literally.
If you believe any of the above, according to the Pew Research Center, you would be wrong.
The most recent Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study shows some surprising statistics when it comes to Christianity in America.
While white evangelicals may have the most political and economic clout, when it comes to categorical essentials of the faith, the study shows they fall behind the next demographic - black Christians, in practically every category.
Among other things, according to the study, black Christians have a higher percentage of church attendance, pray more often, read the Bible more often and believe more strongly in the literal interpretation of scripture; more than any other demographic, including the vocal religious right.
Black Christians report in some instances being more conservative on issues that white evangelicals have made bank on. Yet, voting patterns do not reflect this.
They largely oppose abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, yet vote for candidates that approve and sometimes run on the same.
When it comes to voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic, choosing liberal candidates who by and large don't share their religious views.
Why? Three words. Race. Socio-economic justice.
Not only do white evangelicals have significant influence over public policy, but their economic and religious clout is undeniable.
Granted the conservative religious values expressed by a majority of blacks align with those of the religious right, yet the right wing barely gives and historically has not given black voters even a cursory nod. Nor their core concerns.
Thus, it is no surprise that blacks are not even an afterthought for the Republican Party, nor is the Republican Party any thought of most black Christians.
According to the study, blacks have convictions every bit as conservative; and in some cases, more conservative as those on the religious right.
But as the late Paul Harvey would say, let’s look at the rest of the story.
The hardline between black Christian voters and white Christian voters became evident when 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain declared, “African Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.”
Herman Cain | Photo: Herman Cain Facebook
He was excoriated, vilified in mainstream and black media; and, caricatured as an Uncle Tom sellout by black Democratic leaders.
Among them, pastors and preachers whose mesmerizing influence over every aspect of black thought life, particularly as it relates to politics, not only are generational but legendary.
I am today neither a Republican or Democrat. But for decades, I was a rarity - a black conservative Republican in the great state of Texas.
Then seminary happened. Then I co-founded a Christian organization. And through all of this, my focus and heart gradually shifted from the political side of politics to the human and spiritual.
I have found I fit much better in the comfort of my own skin with an allegiance to God and not to a political party.
Thus this is not a pitch for or a rebuke of either party; nor a defense of black Tea Party conservatives such as Herman Cain.
However, Herman Cain was right.
What he said may have been harsher and with less finesse than the much-celebrated founder and father of Black History Month, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, but no less true.
Dr. Woodson in his seminal work, The Mis-Education of the Negro wrote, “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do.”
And this largely is not only the state today of black voters, but we have witnessed the same for white evangelicals who supported and continue to support President Trump.
No matter what he does or says, he controls the narrative and thus controls their votes and unwavering support.
Blacks attend church more than any other group, are more likely to but less vocally will agree with conservatives on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And, in the survey reported higher levels of conservative ideology across denominational lines.
However, one of the most striking observations of the study found the partisan leanings of blacks from every religious background was Democratic no matter the denomination. And, no matter the agreement with many white conservative issues.
The study did not find this level of party loyalty to be so, to this degree, across denominational lines, among any other ethnic group.
While there is a myriad of interwoven reasons why this is true, it mainly has to do with race, social justice, economics and the “religion of race” in America.
Black and white Christians vote their values. However, voting patterns reveal the priority of those values.
For white Christians, it's the rule of law and abortion. In fact, the only category in the Pew study where white Christians come out ahead of black Christians is "Belief in absolute standards of right or wrong" (whites - 36% blacks - 28%). Which harkens back to one of white evangelicals core values - the rule of law.
It's not that black Christians don't vote their values. It's not that a good number of black Christians don't abhor abortion.
Abortion is a choice. Having to worry if your son, husband or brother will be a victim of police brutality, if you will be discriminated against on the job; or, red-lined or denied equal opportunity of the American dream aren't.
These are necessities that are easily and historically have been afforded whites, not so for blacks, Christian or no. It's not a matter of belief for black Christians, but a matter of survival. So, they vote for candidates who will fight for across the board equality. And those are the more liberal candidates.
Moreover, because many Republican candidates dismiss blacks outright, Christians or no; side with those who have tainted racial history; and/or take hard stances against what blacks value most, black voters view the “R” standing not for Republican, but for racist.
And no matter the commonalities on a moral level, nothing short of a movement of God on hearts and minds is going to change that on the societal or relational level.
Even though the conservative religious values expressed by a majority of blacks align with those of the religious right, the right wing barely gives and historically has not given black voters even a cursory nod.
The whole Make America Great again slogan and movement are seen by many blacks as making America "white again," and once again the haven for whiteness such as it was in the 1950s.
Back to the time of Happy Days and Leave it to Beaver. A glorious time for whites - a horrific, hate-filled time for blacks when they couldn't even sit at a lunch counter or drink from the same water fountain as whites. Let alone be welcomed to worship with them.
This is the rest of the story.
White churches over decades and for generations may very well have nailed a “White Only” sign on the doorposts of their churches as the welcome mat for black Christians was rolled up at the door.
Black Christians were not welcomed in white churches, so they had to build their own. They were not welcomed in schools, they had to build their own.
I personally believe if there is any generational curse on America it is there because of the cruelty of centuries of slavery, perpetual and systemic racism; and, the total disregard of the humanity, dignity, and worth of black people by those in positions of influence.
Agree or disagree, it is what it is.
The Republican Party and white evangelicals in the minds of the majority of black Christian voters are reflections of these long-held sentiments.
With few exceptions, there still are "white churches" and "black churches" and church segregation is still very much a reality.
It is my opinion that the church in America long ago lost its moral authority on the issues of race.
We can't correct that which by our actions we condone.
For example, as much as I love God, a graduate of one of the most conservative evangelical seminaries in the country and ministry organization leader, as a black woman, there are churches across America where none of that matters.
I and many like me still would not be welcomed.
That's just a fact.
In politics once something is politicized it becomes legitimized in the minds of voters.
The overt politicization of religion in the 1980s with the advent of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition sealed the deal with white Christian voters but effectively sealed out black Christian voters.
Chuck Colson, known as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” while in prison for his role in Watergate, became a born-again Christian.
Chuch Colson | Photo: Prison Fellowship
Chuck would later remark that one of the worse things in evangelicalism was the politicization of the gospel in the ’80s.
He said, "One of the major things that led to my conversion was when I walked out of the White House I realized most of the problems I had worked on there were worse when I left power than when I had begun…Jesus forgave sin and fed the hungry.”
Herein lies the rub.
While black Americans have historically been church-goers because the church has since slavery, been the heartbeat of black communities, white churches made it clear that they were not welcomed.
Let's look again at the issue of abortion. While what happens to the child in the womb is the expressed most important value to white Christians, black Christians are concerned too with the continuum and quality of life from womb to tomb; and, how issues such as social injustice and inequality negatively impact life-long life.
White Christians have exhibited little to no interest in lifelong pro-life, social justice and socio-economic issues as their black counterparts. This is the disconnect.
What Chuck Colson finally realized is that God is a God of not just justice, but a God of righteousness and justice. A God that cares as much for the life of a homeless black poor adult in an alley as He does for the life of a helpless white baby in the womb.
This is tough stuff and not pleasant for me to write. But if the family of God can’t get it right no one can.
And for us to get it right, we must take the lead in breaking down black and white silos, and begin talking with, not yelling or pointing fingers at one another; so that we may better understand one another. Then and only then can we begin to love one another as was Jesus' command.
Part of the problem today is that the church has lost its moral authority as many of its leaders have become deeply entrenched in one camp, with little desire to reach out beyond the tribe in discipleship and evangelism - which is what the church in large part should be about. But you can't make disciples of all if you are only interested in the few.
White churches will more readily reach out as missionaries to blacks in Africa before reaching out to blacks in their own backyard. Not an indictment, truth.
Thus, the majority of black voters, including Christian black voters, will vote for a democratic agnostic or unbeliever before they will a white Republican Christian.
Blacks voted 95% for then-Senator Obama in 2008 and even after getting to know better his antithetical views on issues important to the Christian faith, voted 93% for him in 2012.
Even today, despite former President Obama’s unequivocal support of issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and weak defense of Christians and Christianity, a majority of black Christians still support him and would vote again for him for president if he could seek a third term.
Why? Because the current President with support from his white evangelical base continues to show not just disrespect, but utter contempt at times toward people of color and their values. Even once referring to kneeling football players as "sons of bitches." Which in essence was calling the mothers of those young men bitches.
Not one public rebuke from any white evangelical pastor or preacher and the list of insults and name-calling is seemingly endless. Silence is consent.
Black Christians view that deafening silence as definite consent, yet white evangelicals continue their unwavering support oblivious to the collateral damage building against the faith and any hope of building relationships with black brothers and sisters.
In 2012 according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in the history of this country, blacks outvoted whites (66% v. 64.1%), 93% of which went to the Democratic candidate.
Until the body of Christ, the church, the people of God, not the black church or the white church, but those who have been born again into His marvelous grace extended to all, until we get this thing right, America will continue its downward spiral.
Regardless if the vote is right or left, only the Gospel and not the government can make right that which for too long has gone so terribly wrong.
Christians in the U.S. 70.6%
Non-Christian Faiths 5.9%
Believe in God with absolute certainty
Importance of religion in one's life
White 49% very important
Black 75% very important
Attendance at religious services at least once a week
Frequency of prayer, at least daily
Frequency of participation in prayer groups at Least once a week
Frequency of meditation at least once a week
Frequency of feeling spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week
Belief in absolute standards of right or wrong
Frequency of reading the Bible at least once a week
Belief in heaven
Belief in hell
The word of God should be taken literally
Given all the above and the growing divisions in America, tribalism, racial tension and anger, it is incumbent upon us as Christ followers to lead the way. To be salt and light Jesus commanded us to be. The good news of the Gospel is the answer. Regardless of our race, culture, denomination or non-denomination, the church and faith leaders must find a way to put politics aside and bring back front and center, the word of God. It is time for us to lead.
This is my challenge to me. This is my prayer for us.
“If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do.” - Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Dorothy Burton's passion is encouraging and helping people develop their unique leadership abilities; to serve with passion, purpose, and vision. She is a popular speaker for various organizations and conferences across the country.
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Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 @ 3:59 PM CDT