The Scriptures that contain the stories of Israel, the Messiah Jesus, and the early church have long shaped how I viewed the world. It was the bible that affirmed black personhood in the face of an Alabama that did so much to stamp it out. It was Jesus who taught me to love the poor and oppressed. It was Jesus who told me that his coming was good news for people like me, people easier to ignore than to love. The Bible lifted up the vision of a great society consisting of every tribe, tongue, and nation. And I believed every word of it. I have dedicated my life to seeing that vision become a reality.
I thought that my bible loving Evangelical Christians would look into the bible and see the same vision (and be willing to give everything to see it happen in their lifetime). I thought that maybe they just didn’t know how black folks suffered. I thought that if I told them they would listen. I thought maybe that nobody commended Revelation 7:9 to them as the hope for the church and the world. I argued with my black friends who said that white Christians did not care about black people. I said that they were woke Evangelicals who wept and marched alongside us when Tamir Rice was taken from us. I presented the multi-ethnic church as the hope for the world.
Then Donald Trump happened. Let me be clear, I am not saying that everyone who voted for Trump was motivated by racism. That would be silly. I know Christians for whom the pro-life cause was so important that all other issues could be pushed aside in order to secure Supreme Court Justices. I disagree, but I understand. I also understand that some believed that Hillary Clinton was so corrupt that voting for her was unthinkable.
But can we at least admit that the health and well being of people of color did not seem factor into the calculus of the scores of Evangelicals who swept Trump into the White House. For most black folk, there was never a robust embrace of Hillary (I did not support her). Instead we feared Trump because we found his statements about Women, Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims deeply disturbing. This was not the result of media spin. We heard it and we were afraid. We were afraid because every time he spoke about black people, he displayed at best a deep and abiding misunderstanding of the black experience. We were afraid because we thought that his election would mean that our call for better treatment at the hands of some (not all) police would go unheard. We were afraid that the racial animosity that undergirded some (not all) elements of his campaign would rise. We were worried because we thought that when the chips were down the whole church would support us. Now we are afraid that we are alone. I hope that those fears prove to be unfounded. We shall see.
For years we have asked the Evangelical Church to partner with us in our calls for justice, and we have consistently been told to wait until more important issues were settled first (marriage, abortion, and apparently jobs for the white working class). Yesterday, it seems, that we were told to wait longer still.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that in the coming years the church does the work God has given us to do. I hope that we continue to preach the good news of the forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in Christ. I hope that the church raises its voice to stand with oppressed people of color. I hope that we articulate the Christian faith in such a way that racism and sexism, in all its forms, finds no succor in our communities.
I have often heard the conservative church lament its failure to stand with black folks during the Civil Rights Movement. Well, we are in the middle of yet another reckoning in the United States. What is Evangelicalism going to do?
Although I am worried, I am not afraid. I choose hope over fear because when black folk sang we shall overcome, it was not because we believed that twelve percent of the country could, of its own power, triumph over racism. We did not hope because we had the support of the whole church or society. We hoped and sang because Jesus said that in this world his people would have many trials, but to be of good cheer because he had overcome the world. Or to put it in the words of Kendrick Lamar, “If God’s got us, we gone be alright.” God does have us, and because he reigns, I will press on. I will continue to collude with the coalition of the willing, who believe in the coming kingdom that was bought at the price of the blood of the Son. The hallelujah is weary, but I can still shout it.