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.
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 radio broadcast extraordinaire, Paul Harvey would say, let’s look at the rest of the story.
The hard-line 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.”
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.
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 The 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.
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.
Attendance at religious services at least once a week
White 34% Black 47%
Frequency of prayer, at least daily
White 52% Black 73%
Frequency of participation in prayer groups at least once a week
White 22% Black 39%
Frequency of meditation at least once a week
White 36% Black 52%
Frequency of feeling spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week
White 56% Black 69%
Belief in absolute standards of right or wrong
White 36% Black 28%
Frequency of reading the Bible at least once a week
White 32% Black 54%
Belief in heaven
White 70% Black 86%
Belief in hell
White 55% Black 73%
The word of God should be taken literally
White 26% Black 51%
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 myself. 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
By Dorothy Burton
Published on Sunday, August 11, 2019 @ 6:46 AM CDT
Our nation’s latest tragedies raise many questions for all of us. However, a few things are clear. As a nation, we are not well. Our natural response is to look for blame because of our desire for justice. Our history tells us that it is easy to not see the presence of racism when our eyes look to blame others and forget to look at ourselves. It is easy to not listen to what others are telling us about what our words or actions do to our neighbors from other countries or in communities we often do not know as well as we should.
By seeking primarily to blame, we fail to see the corporate consequences in which we all share. We risk passing the buck by saying the problem is with them, not us. Jesus taught that before we work to correct others, we should take a hard look at ourselves. That hard look within us is needed now. And real repentance and lament should begin with us.
We lament the recent, unnecessary loss of life. We ask for God’s comfort to those who lost loved ones and are in pain because family or friends were injured. We can and should offer prayers for those who suffered through these senseless acts of hate. Only God can supply real comfort, yet He does use others as His agents. Moreover, our lament has long term effects when we also look at ourselves (our hearts, attitudes, and behaviors), when we ask for and seek ways to do better, and when we make efforts in reversing the trends, the current environment reflects.
Our current tones of public and political discourse have not helped us. To do nothing and stay in the status quo will not alter this toxic environment that has reached deadly proportions far too consistently. Both our words and deeds need attention. Solely blaming others, even if they are part of the cause, does not excuse us from looking hard at ourselves for how we have contributed to this environment. Our silence and neglect surely bare some of the blame.
Other contributing factors include the ways we are adding to the level of harsh and hateful rhetoric or attitudes, held even privately, that does not match the call of God to love our neighbor and serve as God’s light to the world. We often are not anywhere close to the standards our Lord has called us to; standards such as seeking justice, loving-kindness, and walking humbly with our God.
We need to renounce hate in all its forms, even the appearance of such. We need to challenge the use of violence, including structures of violence, as a way to deal with our problems. We need to listen better. We need leaders to lead by example, share responsibility, and find solutions to the growing violence in our society. We should move beyond only expressing regret, doing nothing, and blaming others. Given our country’s track record of multiple killings, we need serious discussions and action. We should look for the root causes rather than trying to limit the blame to what may be only some of the factors.
As Christians, we are called not to be like the world but to respond in ways that are better than mere self-interest or self-protection. We should model our faith from the pulpit to the workplace to the kitchen table. We are to love and serve others in the world, including those we disagree with about specific solutions. We are to be bold witnesses with the truth of the Gospel and its practical implications for life. We are to go beyond what often takes place and hold ourselves to a higher standard.
May God help us all to take a hard look at where we are with a willingness to change rather than merely defend where we have been. May we be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, so that we can be quick to learn—and maybe even help in the healing of others and find healing ourselves.
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Margaret Tolliver (MAMC, 2012) serves as the administrative coordinator for board meetings in the president’s office at Dallas Theological Seminary. She also volunteers in her church, ministering in praise/worship dance and teaching children about the gospel, God’s Word, and baptism. Her favorite thing to do is to encourage others to seek the Lord in everything that they do, especially if she can use the creative arts to do so.
Dr. Bailey assumed the Seminary’s presidency after years of service as both a professor in the Bible Exposition department and as the Vice President for Academic Affairs. In addition to his years at Dallas Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Insight for Living, Jews for Jesus, and Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
By Dr. Darrell L. Bock | Margaret Tolliver | Dr. Mark L. Bailey
Published on Saturday, August 10, 2019 @ 5:18 PM CDT