My undoing may be my morbid curiosity with how mainstream Evangelicalism responds and reacts to movements of liberation and to the needs and material lives of People of Color – but especially when the two are together. For these reactions tell us something about the soul of White Evangelicalism, how it is concerned with a certain status quo, and how that status is whiteness and the quo is individuality.
After the brouhaha about InterVarsity Fellowship’s declaration for (later tamed down to a “discussion about”) Black Lives Matter, Christianity Today – the imprint closest to what we’d consider the heart of the Evangelical Mainstream and thus the nearest singular approximation to its soul – published a review of Jim Wallis’ new book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Christianity Today’s title of the review of this mainstay within the political left wing of Evangelicalism? “Why #BlackLivesMatter needs the church: The fight for racial justice in America can’t succeed without a God-centered vision.”
Read that again.
“Why #BlackLivesMatter needs the church: The fight for racial justice in America can’t succeed without a God-centered vision.”
Not, “Why the church needs #BlackLivesMatter” or “How can the church support #BlackLivesMatter and black lives”.
nope nope nope nope
Despite differences with Joshua Ryan Butler, the reviewer of the book, (who felt that Wallis’ anti-racism wasn’t theologically grounded enough within the work itself. We’ll address that in part later), he confirmed to me that he did not write the title, nor was there anything within the article itself that would lead to the same conclusion that the title and subtitle did. The problem may just be that some of the Christianity Today editors write these titles and others are just fine with these titles.
A magazine that occasionally features writing by a Neoconfederate Rape Apologist (Douglas Wilson) and that last year had a cover feature on a White Messiah who financed the Kony 2012 project and a paramilitary group in Central Africa is not in a position to lecture black people about what is best for black people.
But then, neither is the Church. And, as my friend Rod taught me to ask, When we talk about The Church, we should ask Which Church? Is it the White Evangelical Churches that constitute the base of Christianity Today content providers and audience? Is it the Black Churches vying for position in the post-Civil Rights Movement eras that lagged far behind the Black Lives Matter movement and most liberationist ones? White suburban Churches that call for criminalization of black people? Megachurches silent about the racial wealth gap while amassing wealth for themselves?
Why should churches have any control over the movement? What have they to offer the movement? I would ask what churches can add to the movement, and that would be a valid question for churches to consider, but that is not what CT was suggesting. In saying the movement or any racial justice movement will fail without a “God-centered vision”, it is seeking explicit control of the message and the means of the Black Lives Matter and other Black liberationist movements. And since most of the churches in America – including the vast majority of those in the Christianity Today envelope – are antagonistic towards LGBTQ people and rights, and since many White churches are pro-incarceration and pro-police…
In this era, US churches are not leading any sort of revolution for the improvement of the lives of the oppressed. Rather, they are engrossed with holding on to what little is slipping out of their fingers. Including good publicity.
But no, Christianity Today argues, black liberation cannot succeed unless it is under the same theology that 150 years ago argued for black enslavement, 50 years ago justified second-class citizenship and this year is silent about black life in a hostile country.
Christianity Today is out of its mind.
What’s observable from the review itself – without the benefit of reading the book – is that Wallis isn’t as interested in an individualistic sin-and-salvation narrative as much as between people, as social groups and social beings. Butler refers to the former as “vertical” relationships, between the one and the One and the latter as “horizontal”. He believes that this emphasis “flattens out” the Gospel, but my experience is that Evangelicalism has focused so much on the vertical that it neglects the latter, so that a little corrective, to say the least, should not be discouraged.
In fact, a practiced theology centered around Matthew 25? Sounds like something that can save the Church.