Politics & Devotion: Dear Evangelicals, I’m tired of sitting in the balcony

Over the course of several days, I sat before the Lord trying to understand why I was so bitter toward evangelicals. I was sincere in my desire to examine my heart and to repent of sin. Per normal, I journaled about it:

Lord, I have this deep disappointment in evangelicals – White Bible-believing Christians – and I don’t know what to do with this inner churning. I have this high expectation of them to stand for the Truth that honors and acknowledges those on the margins. Isn’t that all Jesus ever did? Wasn’t that the whole focus of his life and ministry?”

This led me to a place of confession:

We all have to be careful about despising others. I’ve grown to despise evangelicals.

Determined to define what was happening in my heart, I pulled out my phone and looked up the word despise in the dictionary which led to a discovery of synonyms:

Contempt

Repugnancy

Disgust

Revulsion

Loathing

Hatred

Animosity

Hostility

All of my feelings aligned with all of those words. What struck the greatest chord, however, was the word opposition, defined as “a group of adversaries or competitors; especially a rival political party or athletic team.”

I immediately realized the political nature of my animus. It had nothing to do with the mutual love for Christ that I share with my evangelical brothers and sisters. Like them, I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Like them, I believe all men must repent and believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Like them, I believe abortion should be more restrictive than it is. We agree on a lot. In fact, I spent half of my adult life in ultra-conservative, all-white spaces where I always felt welcome, at home, like family.

But things are different now, so much so that I don’t refer to myself as evangelical anymore. “Evangelical” in 2020 is so deeply associated with the Republican Party that I just can’t align with the term. It’s because I don’t agree with evangelicals on what it means to believe in Jesus and to believe in racial justice too. It’s because I see and hear Christians ardently defend the unborn while actively opposing those who point to other lives ravaged by terrible policies.

This led me to Matthew 18 where Jesus told a parable “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” I admitted in writing that this described me:

I have to guard against and fight every inkling of being a Pharisee about race and justice. If my confidence in my positions causes me to despise those who don’t agree with me, then I am a Pharisee, self-righteous, and displeasing to God. I confess and acknowledge this as wrong and sinful. It is prideful and accusatory. It’s possible for an evangelical to hold their positions in silence and with humility before you. And even those who are vocal and strident may have more humility and contrition than me.

I owned my self-righteousness. I truly did. But my thoughts immediately turned to the balcony. Why the balcony?

A page on the website of The Old North Chapel in Boston offers the following description of how slaves were relegated there:

“Although they were required to attend church with their masters, slaves and servants were expected to remain a respectful distance apart while walking to church and during the service. The gallery was a way for slaves and servants to hear the sermons, but remain out of sight and out of mind. Even though the upper level is an intriguing part of the church today, it was far from an ideal seat. Coldest in the winter and warmest in the summer, the gallery offered little comfort to those sitting there.”

Little comfort. That’s precisely it. I’ve been uncomfortable with the ways evangelicals shut out the voices and perspectives of their Black brethren. We are on the margins. In their balcony.

I have felt this way since Trump. Well, no. Throughout Obama. Yes, it began in 2008 when my eyes were opened to the racism pent up in America’s bosom. That racism found expression just as social media became the vehicle for Christians to share our religious and social views. I was stunned to discover how narrow-minded evangelicals are politically. I was discouraged to realize how little they seem to know or care about America’s racial history and its impact on our society today.

Over time, more of my evangelical friends have asked to hear from me about being Black in America. But there are plenty others who presume I have been duped by the media and Democrats.

From my journal, which included the all caps below:

Black “evangelicals” – if I can call myself that for a moment – are still in the balcony. Present [in White churches] to appease, but not to influence, shape, or contradict. Secondary positions, not prominent. We can’t hold the mic and proclaim God’s heart for racial justice without being despised and contradicted.

So I’ve hit on something big. One source of my resentment is not the position they hold about abortion, but them relegating me/us to the balcony. Abortion and gay marriage are fine for their pulpit, but racial justice gets the balcony. The [White] church and its affiliates have placed stakes in the ground about what policy issues they will address.

Blacks try to speak to White Christians about race and the lingering impact of slavery. This is a message God has gifted to us. We have wrestled with God about the legacy of slavery. We suffer in anguish over the statistics, and killings, and racism. But there is no place in the church for our pain. We are in the balcony and the church misses its opportunity to grow.

Think of how obvious it was during slavery to have Blacks in the balcony. How OBVIOUSLY WRONG AND CONTRADICTORY… The Blacks no doubt DESPISED being relegated to this secondary position. The whites clearly were blind, or pressured, or believed that’s where Blacks deserved to be. Even if there were Whites who hated it, there weren’t enough of them to change the church and integrate. It took A WAR!! + 100 YEARS.

So what I’m feeling is not about their stance on abortion. It’s their stance on me. They want me around, but they want me silent about issues that make them uncomfortable.

I then went on to list the specific spaces predominated by Whites where I felt relegated to the balcony. Chief among them was a conservative news outlet that invited me to provide three-minute audio commentary twice a month on their daily podcast. The clearly stated goal was for me to share my wisdom on race relations and family life. I was the only Black person doing so at the time.

I bent myself into every kind of pretzel for a year, speaking on race only once every two months; framing my words with care to suit the conservative audience who heard something on the show about abortion every single week. I received great reviews from listeners and many began to follow this blog.

But soon after the deadly shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I wrote a commentary about how much I felt Donald Trump played a role in the rise in hate crimes. After submitting the written version first, I was asked to do a rewrite which took me eight hours. Eight hours for 300 words! I tried every way I knew how to be honest and loving too. As requested, I took out the reference to voting since an election was coming up and the organization is a nonprofit.

The commentary was received by one editor, but rejected by a higher up because the point I was making seemed unclear to him. Maybe his concerns had some journalistic merit. Whatever the case, I decided then that the balcony was not for me. I stepped away from the news agency and posted the essay here on my blog instead. With the freedom to say what I wanted to say, I spent three months on a series entitled My Black History. After a year of tip-toeing, I needed to be raw.

Nonetheless, that situation left me grieving. It created a dull ache that became this volcano of bitterness that recently erupted as all caps in my journal. My conclusion?

Our [Black Christians’] message is simple: Slavery has a legacy. Will the church play a role in undoing the harm of slavery or will the church be silent and complicit and complacent? Right now, we hear you: “You can be Black and in my church, but your pain has no place in my pulpit. The pain of the unborn is another matter. We will stand outside of Planned Parenthood to pray. We will pay for posters of mutilated children. We will march for the unborn. We will devote a day and a week and a sermon series to this. We are outraged by this. Outraged by the legacy of slavery? NO. We are not outraged by it.”

And what is the legacy of slavery, you ask? It’s more than I have time and space to write about here. The focus of my recent journaling was the legacy handed down to White Christians. Several definitions landed in my journal for the word legacy, but this one topped them all: Something that someone achieves that continues to exist after they stop working or die.

Dear Evangelicals. Slaveowners and preachers of yesteryear may be dead, but they handed down to you a legacy of indifference to the needs and concerns of Black people.

Don’t get me wrong. I am heartened by new levels of contrition among White Christians. I appreciate the willingness to understand how slavery and segregation are at the root of racist systems that plague us today. Thanks for being interested in that part of the legacy. I value the inquiry and the book clubs.

Just know that it has taken a really long time. No. Not a war and 100 years, but long enough for many of us to grow bitter. It took seeing George Floyd murdered, but why wasn’t Rodney King’s beating enough? Why wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s execution enough? Why haven’t the cries and experiences of your Black brothers and sisters been enough to open your heart to what God is trying to say to you through us? He has given us eyes to see racism so all of us TOGETHER can lead America out of its hatred and indifference toward the very people Jesus would minister to most if he walked the earth today.

While I don’t begrudge anyone for voting their conscience, I do take issue with those who reduce God’s heart to the issues championed by the Republican party. Slavery lasted for more than two centuries because a large swath of Christians relegated it to the balcony of their souls.

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. offer the best possible conclusion to my writing on this topic:

“I cannot close this article without saying that the problem of race is indeed America’s greatest moral dilemma. The churches are called upon to recognize the urgent necessity of taking a forthright stand on this crucial issue. If we are to remain true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we cannot rest until segregation and discrimination are banished from every area of American life. Many churches have already taken a stand…

…But we must admit that these courageous stands from the church are still far too few. The sublime statements of the major denominations on the question of human relations move all too slowly to the local churches in actual practice. All too many ministers are still silent. It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people. It may be that our generation will have to repent not only for the diabolical actions and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the crippling fears and tragic apathy of the children of light.” – The Current Crisis in Race Relations, March 1958

19 thoughts on “Politics & Devotion: Dear Evangelicals, I’m tired of sitting in the balcony

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  1. I wondered what happened to you on the podcast! I actually stopped listening about two months ago – stopped cold turkey, after 7 years of being a faithful listener, b/c a commentary by Ryan Bomberger bothered me so extremely much. He pretty much shoved racial issues under the rug as a non-thing. His piece started by saying that race wasn’t the most important thing impacting black families. At first it sounded like he was going to go the route of saying “Christ is what’s important” – which can be such an easy out (sure, but what does Christ call us to), but it could be a valid point if made in a certain way. Yet he didn’t go that way. He went on to claim that fatherlessness was the most important issue. And it was just so baldly off, and so blind, that it did my head in, and I haven’t been able to listen since. I don’t want to begrudge Ryan his voice – obviously, some people think like him. But why present only that voice, when the majority black voice is saying something else! So untimely! So off! Too bad it didn’t work out for you there.

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    1. I am sorry to hear of your divorce from the podcast, but I am also glad to know someone else heard what I heard: a lot of bias and stereotyping. I am praying for God to open eyes and hearts to the truth that will set us free to work TOGETHER for racial healing in the church.

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  2. I wondered what happened to you on the podcast! I actually stopped listening about two months ago – stopped cold turkey, after 7 years of being a faithful listener, b/c a commentary by Ryan Bomberger bothered me so extremely much. He pretty much shoved racial issues under the rug as a non-thing. His piece started by saying that race wasn’t the most important thing impacting black families. At first it sounded like he was going to go the route of saying “Christ is what’s important” – which can be such an easy out (sure, but what does Christ call us to), but it could be a valid point if made in a certain way. Yet he didn’t go that way. He went on to claim that fatherlessness was the most important issue. And it was just so baldly off, and so blind, that it did my head in, and I haven’t been able to listen since. I don’t want to begrudge Ryan his voice – obviously, some people think like him. But why present only that voice, when the majority black voice is saying something else! So untimely! So off! Too bad it didn’t work out for you there.

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  3. Mary, thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for your pain. I started following you after I heard you on the World and Everything In It. We share the experience of mothers to large families, homeschooling, and loving Christ, but I am a white woman who lives in rural upstate NY and know I cannot fully understand your experience. Sometimes these essays are hard for me to read, but I do want to understand, and I pray for wisdom to know how to respond in our world. I pray that the Lord will keep guiding you with His comfort and healing, and strengthen to you to speak, write, and live the message He gives you.

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    1. Dear Donna. Thank you for connecting. When we mother so many kids, we feel all this tension uniquely because we want to raise Christ followers who love God and their neighbors. With his help, we can wade into these issues and find peace in spite of the stress of it!

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  4. I wish this could find its way into all Churches and be required reading. I am a member of a Christian DOC Church. Membership white with exception of a couple of bi-racial members. Our Pastor has had studies on racism & white privilege with disappointing participation. It seems the few that recognize the problem are the only ones that attend. Sad.

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    1. Dear Charlie. Yes, I have seen that as well. Preaching to the choir. I have really pondering lately how we all have to rely on the Holy Spirit to convict people. The way we deliver our messages and live out racial reconciliation is useful to the Spirit. It feels almost like we need a revival.

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  5. And I am weary of being accused of forcing people sit in the balcony after asking them time, and time, and time again, to sit beside me but they refuse because they either don’t like or don’t approve of the person sitting on the other side of me. I am weary of those who insist that the only way of proving my love and support of them is to reject or condemn others. I am extremely weary of being told I am only allowed to base my vote on one issue and if I choose the wrong way, because other issues do indeed also concern me, I am complicit in perpetuating some sort of evil. Right now I am spending a lot of time praying for my weariness not to turn into indifference or even bitterness.

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    1. Dear Cathy. The issues are definitely complex. We all wrestle uniquely. Hopefully, church leaders can begin to emphasize the truths that Jesus emphasized and not just what our political affiliates decide matters most. In that way, every heart in the church can be comforted and challenged. Take care.

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  6. Wow. Wow. WOW!!! THANK YIU SO MUCH, MARY!!!!!
    I am a white Christian woman, a Christ follower and I have these EXACT feelings. I used to consider myself a Republican. This year all of that has changed. I will no longer affiliate myself with such hatred as I have seen in the comments from those who call themselves Trump supporters. My parents are huge fans of his, my dad emailed me a long letter yesterday in response to a post he saw on my husband’s fb page urging us to vote with what best aligns with our Christian values. I wrestled with this all day yesterday. I know without a single doubt that that is exactly what I am doing and yet my vote will not be the same as his. I KNOW Jesus would be walking alongside us in this fight on racism and social injustice. I have to repent as well for my feelings against some of my fellow white Christians. I feel exactly the same as you. Strangely, when I first started reading this article, I heard a woman who was feeling like me. I didn’t even realize until part of the way thru that you were a black woman. Thank you so much for this. I will use it in my efforts to show my mom and dad just where I stand in all of this. God bless you! Just know this, whether YOU are sitting in the balcony, or below, I sit beside you as an ally and a fellow Sister in Christ. All my love, Mar’ti Thomas.

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    1. Dear Mar’ti. Thank you for sharing your emotional journey. This situation is testing our ability to love others well in spite of our differences, and to listen well too. I appreciate knowing my writing resonated with you and that we share so similar feelings. It goes to show the Spirit within us is the same. Take care and keep me posted.

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  7. Mary,
    Thank you for your thoughtful, compelling and astoundingly gentle plea to White Evangelicals, asking them (us) to truly live as though the things they say they believe are genuinely true. I say that you were gentle in your writing because I can tell the hurt that you have experienced is deep, profound, and still frequently acute. Yet, you wrote as person who was responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus’ command, you judged yourself first, rather than judging others. I have such esteem for you, a Christ follower and Bible teacher who happens to be a person of color. Thank you.

    “As a young boy in elementary school, I stood every day and recited a pledge, stating my allegiance to a flag and the nation it represented: a country where, under God, there was “liberty and justice for all.” As a child I trusted the words and believed them to be true, that all Americans enjoyed the blessings of liberty and had a right to justice.

    It was not until much later in my life, after God had beautifully blended people of color into my immediate family, that I finally, truly understood how different life in America is for them; I finally saw how blind I had been. I recognized that they experience fears I have never known. I understood that they have to worry about things that I had never, ever worried about.

    Every American is (supposed to be) guaranteed innate rights to freedom and justice. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor (of course the list could tragically go on and on) are horrendously, unspeakably unjust events that show that so many Americans, including my family members of color, cannot be at all certain that their most basic rights are guaranteed or will be protected. This. Must. Change.

    There are many, many wrongs that will take years to right. There is one thing that, anyone who is willing to, can change today. We can CHOOSE to STOP being BLIND to the inequalities that still exist in America.”

    I wrote most of the words above, between the quotations, in a FB post some weeks ago. Your gracious but very truthful post has opened my eyes a bit more. You have helped me see that I have given myself too much credit by calling myself blind. Perhaps I have been at least as complacent as I have been unseeing. The truth of this grieves my heart deeply, but I am thankful to recognize it in a new way. And I will make a difference, by God grace and in His power, where I can. Thank you, Mary, for helping to open my eyes, just a little more. You are in my prayers.

    Blessings, Douglas Meyerdirk

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    1. Dear Douglas, Thank you for your heartfelt response and honesty. A blended family can be a great cure for blindness and complacency on all fronts. We have one too! It’s proof that love conquers so much. So many can learn from your heart and words. Keep sharing.

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  8. I am just thankful and give God all the credit for who I am, what I am, and what I have, or will ever have or ever be!

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  9. I don’t identify as Christian, but I was raised as one. The hypocrisy I began to see from churches is why I walked away from organized religion as a whole – the protests against abortion without addressing the why abortion happened, the failure to support measures to ensure an unborn child could be brought into this world and thrive (like universal preschool, support for working mothers, universal healthcare, school lunches, food stamps, strong gun control, fully funded public education, etc) not to mention the racism – none of it seems very Christlike to me. I always thought the Golden Rule was ‘do unto others as you would wish them to do to you’ but I fail to see that from so many self described Christians. I am utterly speechless at the support for men like Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr by people who claim to be Christian, for these men are anything but.
    And then I read your words and realize there are good Christians out there. Keep speaking your truths and please, keep sharing your light.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your heart on this. I’m sorry for how I personally remained blind and silent to these issues for many years. I recognize and appreciate the very personal, emotional energy you put into this piece. Without doubt, this piece is awakening many. Thanks for sharing and when/if you decide to share again, I (We) will be listening.

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    1. Thank you Adam. I try to channel my passion and emotions in a way that is redemptive and provoking in a godly way. We all have learning and loving to do. I feel blessed to know others are joining me on this journey.
      Mary

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