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:
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