African-American Evangelicals and their November Dilemma

Pastor Dwight McKissic, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, sees the dilemma of African-American evangelicals this November (and perhaps future ones) this way:

To give credit where it is due, Pastor McKissic is a doer, not just a talker. He pulled his church out of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention because of the convention’s stance on Critical Race Theory. He has pushed his denomination to repudiate the Confederate flag and condemn white supremacy. For a denomination founded in defense of slave-holding missionaries, these are not small steps.

That said, I would ask a different, more fundamental question were I in his position. Does the term evangelical retain any religious connections to the teaching of the gospel and Christianity today?  Or has it been transformed into a primarily political identity retaining only some of the form and ritual but none of the salvific intent (or power)?

Looking back at the entire aftermath of 9/11 (not just the Trump era, as professional commentators tend to), it seems clear that in practice the word evangelical now functions primarily as a political identity—often in opposition not just to the values of the gospel to which it refers, but to the values of evangelicals who aren’t white. In 2009, a majority of white evangelical Protestants surveyed said torture against terrorism suspects could sometimes or often be justified. In 2018, 75% of white evangelical Christians surveyed rated “the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants” as positive, compared with 46 percent of U.S. adults overall, and 25 percent of nonwhite Christians.

McKissic characterizes voting for Democrats as “anti-family values”. But it is quite difficult to ignore the hypocrisy of talking about “family values” when government policy under the GOP deliberately separated children from their parents and gave those children to foster families, as this country has done in decades past with Native American children (and may soon do again, depending on how the Supreme Court rules in this term).  To bring the question of family values to the present, does it reinforce them or undermine them to support a candidate like Herschel Walker?  He has not only engaged in intimate partner violence against his now-former wife on multiple occasions, but infidelity resulting in children on multiple occasions, paid for one of his girlfriends to have an abortion, and pressured her to have a second abortion (which she refused).  It is very telling that one of Walker’s earliest defenders after these latest revelations was Newt Gingrich, a man whose own infidelities cost him the speakership of the House. The language Dana Loesch chose to degrade the woman Walker paid to have an abortion (and with whom Walker would later had a child) is very telling, as is her complete lack of actual concern re: abortion in favor of prioritizing the power the GOP would have if Walker’s election gave them control of the Senate. Even today, the deliberate cruelty to asylum seekers by Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas appears to find significant support among white evangelicals, not at all consistent with the words of Exodus 23:9, or Leviticus 19:33-34, or Deuteronomy 24:14, or any other verses regarding the proper treatment of strangers.

Karen Attiah has written quite powerfully about the politics of toxic black men like Herschel Walker (and Kanye West). The contrast between how white evangelicals regard Walker and their treatment of Barack Obama (and his wife) couldn’t be starker. They celebrate the former and denigrate the latter. It is necessary and important to question the “pro-family” bonafides of those who promote and elevate people who embody some of the worst stereotypes of black men–especially when it comes to how they treat the women in their lives. During his presidency, I heard more than one white congregant in my own church denomination suggest Obama might be the Antichrist. To hear any Christian to say such things about any political leader (Obama or otherwise) while making excuses for the likes of Trump–who made deliberate cruelty to asylum seekers official government policy (to say nothing of his consistent and flagrant disregard for numerous tenets of Christian belief) saddens me.

A single tweet doesn’t allow room for either nuance or more expansive thought, but the most consequential divide between the GOP and the Democrats right now is the insurrection on January 6, 2021 and their responses to it. It is difficult to imagine actions more contrary to the words of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 re: prayer for our leaders than the participation of white evangelicals in violent opposition to the peaceful transfer of power to Biden from Trump. There is plenty of room to disagree with the policy choices of the Democratic Party. But rather than win the arguments at the ballot box, many Republicans are on record not only pushing falsehoods about the results of the 2020 presidential election, but continuing to strive for the power to overturn whatever popular will voters express in November 2022 and in elections to come. Having succeeded in using the courts to diminish the power of black voters, the GOP now seeks to invalidate any and all elections that don’t go their way. True religious freedom–not just for Christians, but for those of other faiths (or no faith)–will not survive in a country where a party that doesn’t win at the ballot box can simply ignore the result and stay in power.