One Black Man’s Experience with White Evangelicalism

I have never used the word “evangelical” to describe myself or my faith. Yet ever since I first became a Christian in high school I have always been in or near evangelical institutions. On a social and demographic level these groups have invariably been predominantly white.

I quickly learned that in the United States to be evangelical meant much more than assenting to a set of theological beliefs. Evangelicalism encompasses a culture, an aesthetic, a discourse, and a way of viewing the world. All of these elements tend to be filtered through white racial lenses.

As a black person, I could not fully enter into evangelicalism unless I accepted ideas and postures toward politics and justice that were inimical to the well-being of myself and other black people. These white evangelical environments have implicitly demanded that black people assimilate in order to integrate.

White evangelicals communicated the requirement of assimilation in countless overt and subtle ways. One all-white and male panel of commentators decried Christian hip hop because it used an art form–rap–that they characterized as ungodly. Conference-goers walked out of an invited talk a black Christian woman gave because she spoke about the evils of whiteness. In my own experience, a fellow church member called a meeting with one of the church elders to discuss a comment I posted on social media that was critical of Donald Trump.

I could offer dozens of examples. But all of this adds up to a simple conclusion: many black Christians do not count ourselves as evangelicals if that means downplaying our racial and cultural heritage in favor of white-centered norms and expectations.

You might want to hear a few more examples and stories about the rift between black Christians and white evangelicals. You might want to hear more about what happened during the gradual and painful process that ensued as I realized I had to separate myself from some white evangelical contexts. You might be wondering how this present reality ties to hundreds of years of history.

If you have any of those questions or others then there’s good news. I did an hour-long interview with Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and we walk through much of my own history with evangelicalism as well as the content of my first book, The Color of Compromise.

You can listen to the full interview HERE.

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