The problem with white evangelicalism

You may be thinking from the title that this is going to be one of those posts that bashes white evangelicalism. After all, there has been a plethora of pieces over the past few years that have done just that. You know the ones. It’s where the author decries how white evangelicalism doesn’t really model the Christ in Scripture, isn’t accommodating to people of color, and wraps itself in a blanket of Americanism. Well I suppose if that is the description of a congregation and its worship services, then it makes sense to want to leave. Our churches are to model the other worldly kingdom with Christ enthroned and everyone subject to his authority. When we enter a worship service we need to be reminded that we are citizens of another kingdom.

However, I get the sense that the blasts against white evangelicalism have turned into generic diatribes against predominantly white denominations as if they all fit the description of American culturally entrenched gatherings that wave American flags as a symbol of faith and proclaim Republican loyalties as a mark of Christian commitment. I came across this piece in the Jude3 Project blog, The Catch-22 of Theological Decolonization. Cam Triggs cautions that spurning white evangelicalism can also lead to abandoning the faith. It’s a good exhortation but sadly, I found it echoes the same sentiment I’ve heard repeatedly concerning the rejection of white evangelicalism;

First, let me clearly say that we do in fact need to decolonize our faith. We don’t worship white Jesus or bow down at the altar of American exceptionalism. We need Gospel activists and multiethnic mediators proclaiming justice, teaching truth, and defending the faith from the cultural syncretism that so often plagues our churches. In that sense, we must be on guard against ways we have sinfully fused our articulation of Christianity with predominant cultural affinities.

Here is the problem with this exhortation, it presumes that unless a congregation is multiethnic (or at least promoting multiethnicity which I take to mean multi-racial) and speaking against justice (which I presume to mean promoting our present day justice causes from the pulpit), THAT congregation has bowed down at the altar of whiteness especially if the congregation is predominantly white and there may even be Republicans in the mix. This is the congregation I presume worships a white Jesus not that they are actually declaring Jesus is white. Never mind if the fabric of the service itself focuses on Christ with the acknowledgement that he has come for all people’s from every tribe, tongue and nation, that there is truth proclaimed from Scripture with exhortation on what it means to be sojourners in this world, there are commands to love our neighbor, and the faith defended from cultural syncretism.

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Reflections on ETS, Representation and the Face of Evangelicalism

ETS bigcrowdI just came back from the 2013 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). If you are not familiar with this organization, ETS is a professional, academic society of Biblical scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others involved in evangelical scholarship. In short, it is representative of the conservative arm of Christianity affirmed by members acceptance of the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy as criteria for membership.

The meetings are centered on a particular theme, which changes from year to year and hundreds of papers are presented mainly from professors, PhD students and some who serve in as pastors or in a professional capacity. I was specifically interested in gleaning information that would be useful for my thesis but I’m also interested in research on a variety of topics that are relevant to the church and Christian commitment. I also enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow students, professors, and new friends. Good conversations were well worth the trip.

In all fairness, this was my first annual meeting. I’ve been a member for a few years and have attended the regional meetings, which pale in comparison to this behemoth of a meeting. But it didn’t take long to observe that the overwhelmingly, the majority of the 2,000+ members in attendance are white, male. To be sure, the main panel was homogeneous in this regard.  Best of my knowledge, that is how its always been. Now, I don’t say that to make this an issue of race but of representation.  I don’t know exactly what the percentage of minorities was and certainly there was but in comparison to the whole gathering, its pretty small.

Women made up an even smaller percentage of those represented. According to one session I attended on the future of women in ETS, the presenter noted that women comprise 7% of membership and 1% of papers presented. The percentage is even smaller for women of color. Yikes! That’s pretty low considering that over half of the church comprises women. Continue reading