White evangelicalism is a political movement

David French knows how to get at the point and with incredible insight and well reasoned arguments. He is not afraid to adjust his assumptions and thinking as new shifts and actions come to light. I feel his pain all too often. I had a moment like that this past weekend.

What French thought earlier in life is what I believed as well: for all its flaws, Republican Christian conservatism is mainly driven by deeply rooted, theologically coherent faith convictions and not by the perhaps more deeply rooted “folkways” or customs of a disproportionately white, disproportionately rural, and disproportionately Southern American subculture. 

He came to the same devastating conclusion I have in recent years:

I no longer believe this to be true.

The evidence is overwhelming. It has been for some time. He continues:

I now see that when theology and culture collide—or when theology and partisanship collide—a disturbing number of white Evangelicals will choose culture. But they’ll still believe they’re choosing faith, and that profound misunderstanding is contributing to a dynamic that is tearing this nation apart. 

Why have I changed my mind? The answer is quite simple—the theological convictions of Christian conservatism were put to a profound stress test, and the convictions failed. Partisanship prevailed. Populism prevailed. In some ways, the South prevailed

Over the past several years I have been on a journey of learning and action when it comes to racial justice. I’ve taken the blows delivered by friends who have no hesitancy to call my actions “community organizing” (rather than pastoring) or “social justice” (to help them categorize me better, probably as a lost liberal now…).

When my wife and I moved to the deep South to help care for her father a few years ago, I knew it was time for a change. The denomination in which I had grown up, loved, and had spent my adult years serving as a minister, wasn’t what I thought it was… and to be honest, they’d grown tired of me. I needed to learn more about the work of racial justice and what better place than Alabama? The stuff is wide open. Sure, white believers struggle with the past and say things like, “We’re a lot better now, aren’t we?” but it’s in the water in the South and you are going to see it and walk through some stuff.

In the land of “Minnesota nice” we couldn’t see the layers of racism. Then, when it was exposed, it was unrelenting denial… even in “liberal” white circles.

The move South was about family… and about learning more in an area I lacked and knew I needed to learn more. It wasn’t going to happen in the evangelical stream I had been raised in and lived in and served in. The gap was too wide.

David French has the numbers:

Last year, the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture documented an extraordinary gulf. There’s a 50-point gap between white Evangelicals and black Americans on the question of whether “racism—unequal treatment of whites and blacks—is a very serious threat.” There’s a 30-point gap between white Evangelicals and white non-Evangelicals. 

Last year. Not 1968. 2020.

I was in a “movement” that wasn’t theologically based any more. It was culturally based. I had even preached on it… over and over!

Years and years ago, I would ask in my sermons, “Are you an American who happens to be Christian, or a Christian who happens to be American?” (Turns out, the answer was the FIRST side of that question.)

In the last couple of years I pastored, I preached consistently on the dangers of culturalized Christianity… and again it was like pouring water onto concrete.

I was moving in theological action and being accused of being a “community organizer.”

French doesn’t stop:

Moreover, if you think that all this is just noise, and that the true measure of white Evangelical voters is their virtuous commitment to ending abortion (a commitment I share), then think again. There’s powerful statistical evidence that white Evangelicals aren’t really that committed to the legal pro-life cause. 

There is more… far more… HERE.

I write this coming out of a weekend that deeply moved me in the work I am doing in racial justice. Emotions were stirred once again. A bit of anger and a lot of hurt rose up. So, this post is longer than normal and a lot more emotional.

But I’ve followed Christ all my life and all I want is to follow him… and the place I was doing that turned into a political subculture rather than a prophetic and theological home. There is a lot of emotion to that.

I will also note that while I have found a new home for church and ministry, I’m far more cautious. I don’t want my heart broken again… but I can’t say I’m going in blind. Sadly, I go in preparing to be disappointed, but hoping for more.

brown wooden house near tree under blue sky
Photo Credit: Hamish Weir, Unsplash

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