Hi and welcome back! Today in the midst of great and necessary social upheaval, we observe Juneteenth. On Juneteenth (June 19), we commemorate Emancipation Day. That day, in 1865 in Texas, all slaves finally became free. However, this is one bias that dug deep into the hearts of many white people. To this day, we still struggle as a nation with racism and systemic oppression. And I lay a big part of that struggle right at the feet of white evangelicals. Today, I want to show you how white evangelicals maintain racism as a core belief, why their solutions to racism absolutely will not and will not ever work, and most of all why that last fact doesn’t deter them at all from pursuing these non-solutions.
(Some previous posts about racism: The Green Book (Destroys Racist Narratives); Racism in ‘The Shack’; Atrocity Apologetics and Literalism; Racists and the Consequences They Never Expected; Evangelicals’ Bad Luck With Mascots; And Now For Atheist Racists.)
(A foreword for newer readers: Welcome and thank you for visiting! Just so you know, I often visualize evangelism-minded Christians as salespeople. In this context, they don’t sell “belief in Jesus,” but rather “active, engaged membership in their respective groups.” They’re really inept salespeople using techniques that set them up to fail, and many bristle at the idea that they’re salespeople at all, but the facts remain. Also, I love to link. Here’s our Rules of Engagement, if you feel like hanging out in comments! If not, know that we appreciate lurkers too!)
Another Statue’s Long-Overdue Removal.
Not long ago, a reader sent me this link from Baptist Press: “Confederate monuments’ removal praised by Southern Baptists.” In it, we learn that the governor of Virginia has finally ordered the removal of a 40-foot-tall statue of Confederate traitor Robert E. Lee from downtown Richmond.
Marshall Ausberry, the president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), praised the move. He called it “130 years overdue.”
In this praise, Ausberry found himself joined by some very big names. Fred Luter, who served as the very first African-American president of the SBC in 2012-2014, expressed his own joy over the occasion.
One of the other big names chiming in was none other than Steve Gaines! Gaines, in addition to being the pastor of a Tennessee church in the denomination, also served as the president of the SBC right before its current king, J.D. Greear.
Not Actually An Evolution.
We talked about Steve Gaines during his reign in 2017, when he was admonishing the SBC flocks to get more “evangelistic” to fix their “baptism drought.” When we examined a sermon he gave to the SBC on his way out of the throne room, we learned that he’s a big one for evangelical historical revision — among a lot of other really horrifying and gross ideas.
So Steve Gaines is hardly a person that Christians should look to for enlightened leadership. But here he is, piously proclaiming that he supports the statue’s removal.
Before anyone applauds his enlightenment, however, know that he doesn’t support this move because this statue represents a horrifying mark on our history as a nation and continues to divide people today.
Rather, he supports the statue’s removal because he’s come to realize that it will hurt sales.
Here’s Fred Luter’s statement on the topic of statue removal in his own home state of Louisiana (from that Baptist Press article, archived here):
“The monuments promoted racism and division against those in the African American community. There was never anything positive that these monuments represented. They separated us rather than bringing us together.”
Now, here’s a bit of Marshall Ausberry’s statement about Confederate statues’ removal in general:
“Regrettably, they represent a part of American history not to be hidden, but to be displayed in a more appropriate and respectful manner for all parties involved.”
Both these men’s statements offer glimpses of human dignity, unity, and justice. But now, let’s look at Steve Gaines’ statement regarding the Richmond statue’s removal:
“I just don’t see any need for us to have a stumbling block over a war that in my opinion, the South was not on the right side of that war,” Gaines told Baptist Press. “It was holding and oppressing millions of African Americans that should have never been forced to be slaves, and obviously today their descendants are offended by it.
“Why in the world as a Christian would I want to set any kind of stumbling block before my brother?”
Y’all, every time I think I’ve seen the last offensive, atrocious thing I can see out of an evangelical leader, one of them comes along with a shovel and orders me to hold his Bible.
In Steve Gaines’ mind, Confederate statues might be offending African-Americans so much that they reject his product. That’s why he supports their removal now. That’s why his tribe should support this cause. Not cuz of racism, no no! Because of sales.
Birthed in Racism.
There’s a good reason why Steve Gaines thinks this way.
You see, his entire denomination was birthed by pro-slavery evangelicals.
Literally, as Pew Research tells us.
Way back in the 1800s, Southern and Northern Baptists dramatically differed in opinion on that topic. In 1845 (20 years before Juneteenth’s inspiration), Southern Baptists formally separated from the main group to form their own denomination, today’s SBC.
Today, not much has changed. The denomination is overwhelmingly white (85%), with 6% African-American members and 3% Latino. Only one African-American has ever become the president of the denomination. I know of no SBC committees or directing boards that come even close to a description of diverse; almost all of them are entirely made up of white men.
They didn’t get around to apologizing for this slavery-steeped past until 1995. “Racial reconciliation” became a big buzzword, but achieving it turned out to be more of a gauzy, lofty ideal than something they were willing to actively work to make happen.
The PR Nightmare.
A few years ago, the racism of the SBC became a public-relations (PR) nightmare. In 2017, an African-American pastor, Dwight McKissic, suggested at their Annual Meeting that they pass a resolution condemning white supremacy and alt-right movements.
As The Atlantic tells it, the suggestion caused “chaos” to erupt at the meeting. In fact, “all hell broke loose.” Another African-American SBC pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile, tweeted a response:
Any “church” that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus denying assembly. No 2 ways about it … I’m done.
As you can imagine, the white supremacists in alt-right movements rejoiced — which might have spurred the meeting attendees to second-guess the wisdom of their dithering. Eventually, after hours of “rhetorical nitpicks” and arguments, they reconvened at Steve Gaines’ frantic urging after the meeting had officially ended for the day. Finally, they managed to squirt out a vote approving the resolution.
It all sounds like the most astonishing fustercluck I’ve ever heard of out of them, and you know that’s a tough race to call. This time, a lot was at stake for them.
Then, in 2018, oldest SBC seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released a report about its how its roots are steeped in racism. Lots of news outlets covered the story. In the report, Al Mohler, the leader of the seminary since 1993, wrote:
We knew, and we could not fail to know, that slavery and deep racism were in the story. We comforted ourselves that we could know this, but since these events were so far behind us, we could move on without awkward and embarrassing investigations and conversations.
And predictably, Mohler blamed that past on the bugbear excuse that all of his fellow white SBC leaders have utilized:
The Big Problem Here (According to White Evangelicals).
At least as early as 1969, author Jeffrey K. Hadden described this excuse in action in his classic book The Gathering Storm in the Churches. The book largely dealt with Christians’ resistance to the Civil Rights Movement — and the retaliation church flocks inflicted on any of their clergy members who tried to help with that struggle.
In the book, Hadden wrote (p. 136 of the hardback edition):
While most people applaud the general idea that equality for Negroes is a good thing, they remain either indifferent to or ignorant of the historical conditions which have placed the Negro in a disadvantaged competitive position. Hence, they reject almost any effort that is directed toward changing these underlying conditions.
Hadden claimed that he “was quite frankly shocked” by the response to that question. However, I don’t know why. What, did he not know his tribemates?
For many years, white evangelical leaders have blamed personal sin for racism and its manifestations in America (which directs their support away from systemic solutions). Here’s how Al Mohler describes his favorite excuse in that 2018 seminary report:
We know that evil is not merely moral wrong; it is sin, a falling short of the glory of God and the breaking of God’s commandment. We understand the wrong of American slavery and segregation to be sin, a rebellion against God’s creation of human beings equally in his image.
It’s an absolutely astonishing abdication of personal responsibility, but it’s always been absolutely standard throughout modern white evangelicalism. Al Mohler himself defended slavery in 1998, after all.
Fixing The Big Problem Here.
So if The Big Problem Here is personal sin, then fixing it becomes a matter of convincing everyone to Jesus just as hard as they possibly can. In particular, civic leaders must decide to Jesus super-hard, which will totally ensure (“as the night the day“) that they wield their power in “rightful” ways.
The powers-that-be have a biblical responsibility to be just in the way that they wield the rightful use of the law. [. . .] The Scripture is what tells us that the idolization of the flesh is sin (Gal. 5:16-24), that hatred of those made in the image of God is sin (1 Jn. 3:11-15), that mistreating people with the justice system is sin (Prov. 17:15; 23:10), that ignoring the cries of those being mistreated is sin (Deut. 23:14-15; Jas. 5:4). And the Scripture tells us that that sin, without repentance, brings the judgment of God (Rom. 6:23).
Okay, so Jesus-ing hard enough prevents outbreaks of racism and cure human hearts of this vileness. When people don’t Jesus hard enough, that causes them to express racism. Racism itself becomes simply an expression of “sin without repentance.”
Also, yes, this big-name denominational leader just accidentally revealed that his very own denomination’s founders weren’t Jesus-ing properly when they flounced off to create his entire denomination because they were just too racist to give up slavery.
It’s the little things in life, y’all. Enjoy them when they happen.
The Cure: Spontaneous Jesus-ing.
So if not Jesus-ing properly causes racism, then obviously Jesus-ing properly cures it. For many years, that’s largely been the tack that white evangelicals have vastly preferred to take on the topic of their own endemic racism.
However, Christians have never, in the entire history of their entire religion, come up with a way to convince “sinful” hypocrites to Jesus harder.
If someone doesn’t naturally want to address their own problems, whatever those might be, then nothing about the system of Christianity compels them to do it. The threat of tribal retaliation might induce a hypocrite to keep their “sin” on the down-low, but — as the very first Southern Baptists knew well — determined hypocrites can just leave the tribe to find one that condones or even encourages their desired behavior.
And if that person’s a leader in that group, then even less can compel them.
Broken systems like evangelicalism evolve to get their leaders what they want most — power and privilege — at the expense of everyone else. Southern Baptists just illustrate that principle in a more overt way than other subgroups within white evangelicalism.
The Real Reason.
Evangelicals wish and hope for civic leaders to just decide one day to Jesus hard enough to administer their power “rightfully.” They know, deep down, that this dream won’t ever come true no matter how hard they pray about it, so it’s very safe to dream aloud about it.
However, the real fix to racism involves sweeping changes to various underlying structures in our government and culture that support racism and reinforce racial divides.
And evangelicals reject all of it — for a reason.
Right now, racism represents one of the very few methods white evangelical men have left for achieving happiness.
Happily Emptying Their Pockets.
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
That statement couldn’t describe any group better than it describes white evangelical men. Their entire ideology exists to serve and ensure white male supremacy. Any politician or religious leader pandering to that ideology enjoys their complete and wholehearted support.
To be a white evangelical man is to sit comfortably atop a heap of other demographics. Those men thus feel perfectly entitled to command and speak for these other folks. They love that hit of divinely-mandated superiority and undeserved power over others. Meanwhile, their leaders understand well the easy control evangelicals’ racism offers to those willing to callously manipulate that sentiment.
Why Evangelicals Reject Real Action.
Evangelicals want to fix racism about as much as they want to actually lower abortion rates. In both cases, nothing they’re doing will ever work to accomplish either stated goal. Worse, their efforts only exacerbate the problems they sanctimoniously condemn.
In Reality-Land, we know that real solutions to racism require a lot of work. As well, that work affects all aspects of American society.
I can see why white evangelicals resist that work with all their might. After all, success necessarily requires the dismantling of white male supremacy.
Pretending to fight racism, however, makes for good evangelical PR.
I Bet They Thought This Was Clever.
I wonder how many people are fooled though? I’m sure not.
It’s painfully obvious to me that evangelicals blame “sin” because it’s such an easy out — and because they know quite well that it creates a problem with no real-world solution.
See, long ago Christians conveniently made “sin” part of the human condition. Their entire system teaches that it is absolutely impossible to divest oneself of this purely-imaginary flaw.
And then, they ascribed all problems to this ultimate problem of “sin.” Therefore, all solutions involve dealing with “sin” in approved ways.
What I describe here doesn’t just apply to evangelicals’ endemic racism problem. It also represents their approach to dealing with their overwhelming, constant stream of sexual-abuse scandals. For many years, the SBC has perennially refused to adopt a denominational sexual-predator database. They have maintained that refusal even after “Abuse of Faith” blew wide open. That refusal derives from the same wellspring of white male supremacy as their refusal to accept systemic changes as the solution to racism.
Why A Real Solution Represents a Real Problem.
As long as evangelicals can reach for not Jesus-ing hard enough as The Big Problem Here, their white male supremacy remains inviolate. The moment Jesus-ing hard enough stops being the problem, it also stops being the solution.
And at that point, a lot of evangelical claims about their religion start looking really ridiculous. I mean, yes, they’re ridiculous. But evangelicals’ claims range far outside the supernatural. They make a lot of claims about the real world, too, that are equally false.
Since solving racism involves not evangelicals’ product but real-world systemic changes that directly challenge evangelicals’ ideology and even worse makes evangelicals, in effect, the baddies here, at that point, who will need or want what they sell? Who needs Jesus-ing at any level, if the solution’s found entirely outside of Jesus-ing at all and directly contradicts evangelicals’ claims that Jesus-ing fixes anything?
Of what use is evangelicals’ product then?
Their sales to outsiders are already tanking. Their retention rate already blows goats. And if they change course now with their culture wars, they’ll enrage their remaining fanbase enough to leave for groups that maintain the white male supremacy that’s served them so well for so long.
All they can do is drill down at this point — if they wanna keep their jobs.
Human Decency Not Included.
Evangelicals’ culture wars create a body count, of course — they always have. And that body count doesn’t matter to them. It never has. Maintaining their divisive ideology and existing power structure matters way more. That effort creates exactly the problems they claim to stand against, while offering nothing in terms of real-world solutions.
In every way, evangelicals thus enshrine racism — along with a lot of other -isms — into their core identity. Doing this ensures the protection of the power and prerogative of their dominant group of white male evangelicals.
As long as evangelicals embrace white male supremacy, they’ll never reach for real-world solutions. It’ll eventually spell their doom in terms of relevance, but hey, that’s probably years away. Most of ’em are old anyway, so they’ll probably be long gone before those chickens come home to roost at last.
Sure, it sucks to be a young evangelical up-and-comer hoping to grab a piece out of that power pie before it’s too late. Oh well. Evangelical irrelevance just becomes their problem then. White male evangelicals can’t dominate and mistreat people who are equal to themselves, and that’s what matters to them now.
May this Juneteenth mark a coming end to what matters most to evangelicals.
NEXT UP: Back to Lee Strobel’s book, Unchurched, to examine friendship evangelism and the lies evangelicals tell themselves to practice it.
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