Black Clergy, Petitioning Government, and The Failure of Black Responsibility

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Prior to last week’s election, an ad hoc group of black clergy led by Jacqueline C. Rivers- executive director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies in Boston, and recently elected Bishop, Frank M. Reid III, former longtime senior pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, MD., delivered a letter to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn.

Heavily anticipating a win against Donald Trump, the open letter questioned how Clinton’s administration might have addressed various problems within black communities- high rates of abortion, police brutality, and the lack of quality education and economic opportunities.

The 25 signatories, self-identified Democrats and “Independents,” reminded Clinton of the importance of the black vote, and insisted Clinton not ignore the “69,000 black churches in the US.” They also demanded that Clinton “accord the Black Church the same respect that would be conferred on wealthy white donors.”

Good luck with that because it’s never going to happen. Blacks have neither the financial nor political capital to demand they be considered equal to white donors (or any other demographic), let alone taken seriously when they do. As black voters, we haven’t earned that kind of respect.

The coalition of black faith leaders concluded the letter by requesting a meeting with her during her first 100 days in office to discuss these and other issues in more detail.

Unfortunately for these concerned black faith leaders, there will be no meeting with the Clinton administration because there will be no Clinton administration. Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the Untied States.

That there was no letter delivered to president-elect Donald Trump’s headquarters is symptomatic of the black dependence on Democrat policies to solve black crises.

As representatives of black Christianity, the signatories should be commended for having brought attention to several important issues complicating the quality of life for too many black Americans.

However, this letter was counterproductive. Why are black clerics still trying to persuade Democrats to take black concerns seriously? The constructive criticism isn’t of these black religious leaders, necessarily, but with the habit of outsourcing black responsibility and the preoccupation with the government to solve the calamities in black society.

Democrats have deliberately taken the black vote for granted since black folk decided en masse to compliantly give their votes to the Democrat party while asking for nothing respectable in return for their faithfulness.

Democrats see no obligation to earn black votes but still receive them; Republicans observe blacks being politically snubbed, its apparent acceptability, and simply don’t see a reason to bother. Though Donald Trump has expressed some interest and sympathy for the concerns of black society, there’s no guarantee that as president, Republicans will act on that interest, meaning the bipartisan habit of ignoring black voters will most likely continue.

Both political parties being indifferent to black problems is a reality but blacks alone are responsible.

Aside from rightly petitioning the government to pass legislation that addresses education- improved quality, school vouchers, and parental choice- and economic issues- reduced regulation, encouraging enterprise zones, and minimizing minimum wage costs to make blacks more employable, black religious leaders shouldn’t plead with politicians to resolve black moral pathologies that can and must be primarily challenged by local churches in their respective communities.

To be certain, the majority of the issues raised in this correspondence are moral problems.

The missive’s full-throated condemnation of the devastating effects of abortion on black communities is spot-on. The catastrophic impact of abortion in black communities and the rates in which black women have abortions is addressed, noting that, “Blacks account for roughly 38% of all abortions in the country though we represent only 13% of the population.” That’s racial self-extermination.

The letter also affirms that because people are “created in God’s image,” innocent human life deserves protection against the “deliberate destruction… in its most vulnerable state.”

Yet the cosigners questioned Clinton (and the inquiry has to be rhetorical considering the topic, whom they addressed) as to what her administration might have done to mitigate the high numbers of black abortions. Hillary Clinton was the recipient of an award named after racial eugenicist Margret Sanger and is an enthusiastic supporter of abortion up to the point of birth. Democrat party devotion to abortion is religious in nature, and it ain’t changing.

Black church leaders are much better suited to confront the abortion issue- not only because it’s a moral problem- but because of their proximity to the problem. The women having these abortions are members of their local churches and religious institutions. The problem and solution of reducing high abortion rates comes down to moral redemption and black responsibility, and that starts with local church leaders redeeming theologies of life that flatly denounce sexually-destructive behaviors (including abortion as birth control) and encouraging productive ones; not government intervention.

The same goes for the disproportionately high black crime rates that encourage police presence in black neighborhoods.

The delegates of black Christianity were correct in highlighting black criminality, a “calamity” as they called it, but they sought action and resolution from the wrong person, party, and medium.

Though effective policing and commensurate sentencing for criminality are needed, black churchgoers must deliberately and resolutely rebuke the depravity of black thugs pursing death and devastation or more blacks- particularly the innocent- will suffer the predictable consequences. Black churches must reject the tradition of silence regarding this issue. Black reticence condones the very community-destroying behaviors these black Christians were spotlighting.

If blacks want to reduce the occurrences of lethal police encounters, black churches must vociferously repudiate the cultural disorders and criminal stereotypes that draw the eye and ire of law enforcement. Black churches would do well in reviving and emphasizing a religious temperament that includes family stability, fatherhood, self-respect, personal responsibility, and the love of neighbor and self to minimize black criminality and tension-filled police responses. Black churches need to maximize the gospel and other resources that are instrumental in changing lives and overcoming the negative aspects of black culture.

Blacks must control the things that are within our power to control. We must stop preserving the posture of weakness and helplessness, depending on politics to save us.

The issues raised by these black church leaders are significant, and more blacks need to honestly confront what’s destroying black society, painful as it is. We must candidly identify the defeatism in black society and confess the fact that we’re sabotaging ourselves.

Black faith leaders have been called and entrusted to bear witness to the transformative nature of the Christian gospel on the lives it touches. Petitioning the altar of government for restoration implies that the gospel of Christ is pragmatically insufficient when compared to the gospel of big government.

Salvation is from God, not the government.

The Politics of Jen Hatmaker are Influenced More by Leftism than Christianity

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The 2016 election cycle has definitely cultivated an interesting and divergent compendium of Christian and evangelical appraisals concerning the respective candidates running for president.

Donald Trump’s unconventional and unexpected campaign that earned him the Republican nomination has forced conservative evangelicals into a fratricidal conflict that has and will change the context of conservative Christian political witness going forward.

While the friction has at times been exaggerated and pharisaical, generally, it’s a good thing.

The public bickering among evangelicals has been awkward to watch but the separation and potential divorce between religious conservatives and the GOP is long overdue. This is a necessary step to salvage and redeem the religious and theological character of evangelicalism. This renovation project is indispensible to the moral integrity of Christian socio-political testimony.

The same can’t be said of so-called Christian Progressives.

There is very little internal disagreement about the moral conflict of supporting Hillary Clinton in light of her repeated and predictable tendency of systematic corruption and dishonesty. Many on the Christian Left have simply rationalized and compartmentalized Clinton’s unrestricted character flaws- not so much as the lesser of two evils (though there is some of that)- as a political and moral obligation to support her. By default, they also support other progressive social policies of the Left.

And they’re using every opportunity to say as much.

Christian author, public speaker and reality-TV personality Jen Hatmaker granted a short interview to Religion News Service to discuss her perspective on the 2016 presidential election, her views on homosexuality, abortion, and Black Lives Matter.

In the interview- filled with half-truths and straw man positions, Hatmaker began by addressing and glossing over Hillary Clinton’s wretched character, admitting that she’s still open to voting for Clinton come November.

She then criticized Donald Trump’s behavior as unfit for the presidency; here, I don’t necessarily disagree with her. Donald Trump continues to do and say numerous things undeserving of the Executive Office.

But I think Hatmaker erred in repeating the mistake of oversimplifying who and why people support Donald Trump. There are, to be certain, “deplorable” people backing Trump. Anti-Semitic, ethno-nationalist white supremacists fit this distinction. But I think it’s a mistake to dismiss and unfairly generalize those, Christians included, who reject this kind of disgraceful racial populism, but still maintain support for Donald Trump.

Hatmaker then discussed her free-thinking views on gay marriage and LGBT community. It’s no surprise what she believes with respect to this issue. She says,

From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friendsNot only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family.

Whether gays are our neighbors or friends- it’s not about choosing whom to love- that has never been the issue. People are free to choose whom to love without restriction. It’s about reinventing marriage as a social justice concept.

Moreover, marriage isn’t a “civil right,” or a “liberty,” nor is it found in the Constitution. No one, gay or straight, had the “right” to marry until the Supreme Court created one specifically for gays and lesbians.

And what about the civil rights of Christians who’ve experienced discrimination because of this newfound LGBTQIA “right”?

Wanting to follow the Supreme Court’s lead, Jen Hatmaker wants the church to make special considerations for gay/lesbian Christians that we shouldn’t (and don’t) make for other Christians. Gay Christians may be kinfolk in Christ, but that doesn’t necessitate Christians excusing sin, twisting theology, and upending the divine ordination of man-woman marriage for a false display of religious compassion. Like many other groups- the church is defined by orthodoxy- designated by what it believes just as it’s defined by what it doesn’t. Loving our neighbor and treating them in ways we seek or desire to be treated doesn’t entail compromising the comprehensive nature of biblical teaching and church tradition.

Hatmaker then discusses her expanded understanding of being pro-life when she says,

…my pro-life ethic has infinitely expanded from just simply being anti-abortion… pro-life includes the life of the struggling single mom who decides to have that kid and they’re poor. It means being pro-refugee. It means being pro-Muslim. My pro-life ethic… has expanded. 

There’s something incredibly disingenuous about a Christian community that screams about abortion, but then refuses to support the very programs that are going to stabilize vulnerable, economically fragile families that decide to keep their kids. Some Christians want the baby born, but then don’t want to help the mama raise that baby. 

The Christians she refers to are caricatures she created- meaning she oversimplifies the issues to embarrass Christians.

This view of what it means to be pro-life, though accurate, is falsely used to marginalize Christian anti-abortionists. The Christians she refers to are misrepresentations. Hatmaker uses the superficial talking points of the Left to malign and deride fellow religious pro-lifers. It’s inappropriate, especially for a Christian and she discredited herself by doing this.

Additionally, what pro-lifer/anti-abortion Christian is against helping poor single moms? Or supporting programs to help those in need (rather than grifters who seek personal gain through exploitation)? Jen Hatmaker lied about pro-life anti-abortion Christians presumably because they disagree with an expansive and corrupt welfare state that encourages dependency and compromises human dignity.

What does being “pro-refugee” mean? Sounds good, but it doesn’t mean anything because Hatmaker doesn’t define it in real terms.

Same with her being ‘pro-Muslim’? What does that mean, exactly? Supporting all Muslims, even the ones who believe it’s Allah’s will to maim and kill nonbelievers and all those who refuse to submit to specific religious convictions?

Hatmaker finishes by highlighting her racial justice cred, saying she supports Black Lives Matter based on “evidence and documented research.” She also voices concern over the potential (inevitable) treatment of her adopted black son by police in the future.

The church is AWOL on racial unity and reconciliation and it has outsourced its moral obligation to lead onto racial and social justice warriors. In my mind, there’s no doubt about that. But the void created by the lack of Christian presence and spiritual leadership should not prompt Christians to support a corrupt outfit like Black Lives Matter. Period. It’s a movement methodically based on lies and deliberately diverts attention away from more pressing issues- like black criminality, high black abortion rates, fatherless black families, high black unemployment rates, and substandard education- that would actually establish that black lives matter.

As for evidence and research– both completely undermine the foundation Black Lives Matter is built on. And she would know this if she actually looked it up rather than trying to be right on all the right issues.

These positions are intellectually dishonest and intensely foolish. I’m not sure what happened to Jen Hatmaker but this exemplifies the irresponsible quality of thought on the religious Left. Religious progressives should follow the lead of their conservative evangelical brethren and divorce themselves from progressive politics to salvage what’s left of their religious and social credibility.

Book Review: The End of White Christian America

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The End of White Christian America, by Robert P. Jones. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016. 309 pages

According to Robert P. Jones, the founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), White Christian America- “the most prominent cultural force in the nation’s history”- is dead.

Jones’ new book, The End of White Christian America, which narrates the historical development and decline of this religious and national phenomenon, functions not only as a eulogy for the once prominent majority but also the obituary of what he refers to as White Christian America. Though the exact time and date of death is somewhat uncertain- Jones speculates roughly 2004- the cause of death, according to Jones, is obvious. The factors that inevitably led to the demise of White Christian America included the changing racial/ethnic demographics, increasing religious disaffiliation among Americans- particularly younger Americans, and the inability of White Christianity to maintain relevance in a shifting cultural environment that welcomed and approved the redefinition of marriage to include homosexuals.

Who, then, is White Christian America?

According to Jones, White Christian America overwhelmingly consists of white Mainline Protestants and white Evangelicals. Jones argues that the political activity of Evangelicals in the latter part of the 20th century forced white Christian America to expand and integrate Catholics and Mormons into their tribe in hopes of expanding its political influence resulting from a shared partisan expediency and potential socio-political objectives.

Historically, White Christian America traces its religious roots to northern Europe (30-31). In America, Jones chronicles three distinct waves of its cultural influence and growth: the Roaring 20s, World War II, and the political ascendancy of the Religious Right in the 70s and 80s (7). Though viewed as a whole, geography and theology distinguished one half of White Christian America from the other. The theologically liberal, mainline Protestants were headquartered in New England and upper Midwest while the more conservative evangelical Protestants were (and still are) entrenched in the South and lower Midwest (31).

The power and influence of White Christian America were seen not only among institutions that shaped and reflected its culture- The National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, The Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts, the Young Men’s Christian Association, denominational colleges and seminaries among others- it was demonstrated in the kind of architecture that defined both halves of this Protestant empire. Jones notes that the (mainline) United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C., the Interfaith Center in New York City, and the (evangelical) Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California- reflected the respective cultural prominence of white Protestantism in its heyday.

Recounting the decline of White Christian America, Jones provides very good data from sound sources including the General Social Survey, American Values Atlas, the Pew Foundation, and data derived from Jones’ organization, PRRI. The gathered data suggest that religious plurality; ethnic plurality, the increasing decline in self-identified religiosity, and the graying of White Christian America all contributed to its decline. For instance, Jones highlights that 2008 was the last year on record in which Protestants, regardless of color, represented a majority of the country(50). The estimated white Christian share of the 2016 electorate is only 55 percent and Jones predicts it will make up 52 percent of the electorate come 2020 (47).

Considering the decline of white Christian presence in the country and electorate, Jones contends the election of the country’s first black president was both a symbolic repudiation and conquest over the long dominance of this cultural force. The reaction to the first black president, argues Jones, resulted in the “politics of nostalgia” for White Christian America- specifically by evangelicals- anxiously or angrily pining for a time of recognizable religious and ethnic homogeneity (85). Though he doesn’t mention the current election cycle, one is immediately drawn to the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan of Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump.

Has White Christian America lost its cultural and political influence? Unequivocally, Jones says absolutely. He notes the political strategy of marshaling and depending on white Christian voters- a successful plan of action for re-electing George W. Bush in 2004- is a losing political strategy going forward, resulting from the declining citizenry of White Christian America. Appealing to a wide berth of data, including the 2013 Growth and Opportunity Project commonly referred to as the “GOP Autopsy” report, Jones is certain that if the GOP wishes to remain politically competitive in the future, it needs to abandon the once-dependable strategy of appealing only to white Christians (110).

I couldn’t agree more.

Sociologically, the end of white Christian dominance precipitates a broader demographic change with social, cultural, political, and economic consequences. Even still, the book focuses on this phenomenological passing through a political and cultural lens and that shouldn’t be avoided or minimized. For example, a portion of Jones’ autopsy, as mentioned earlier, is focused on “gay marriage” and what “acceptance” means for White Christian America and its decline. Though he conflates “gay rights” (doesn’t define in detail) with “gay marriage,” Jones acknowledges that the agenda of homosexual activists was to directly challenge the religious sensibilities and theological principles of White Christian America in pursuit of social acceptance and legalization of “marriage equality.” Further, Jones says that widespread acceptance and legalization of same sex marriage is additional evidence of the end of White Christian America’s cultural dominance. This is a bit concerning, as widespread acceptance of same sex marriage (more specifically, redefining marriage to include anyone) is a rejection of the orthodox Christian teaching and practice concerning marriage, regardless of color or ethnicity.

Jones’ claims that the refusal to bend to cultural trends and accept gay marriage (which he labels antigay) puts the evangelical portion of White Christian America at odds with younger Americans (132-137). There’s a subtle suggestion that evangelicals should follow their mainline brethren and bend or reject traditional Christian biblical and theological teaching on marriage as a strategy to broaden its appeal to younger Americans.

Lastly, Jones maintains that White Christian America has a race problem, evidenced both in the opposition to Barack Obama, and the reaction to cops killing “unarmed black males” (147-148), which he claims establishes a lack of sympathy for blacks and their feelings about blacks who’ve died in police interactions (155). As it pertains to the election of Barack Obama, there might have been some who held anti-black feelings that motivated and animated opposition to him. But, and what Jones doesn’t consider, is that considerable opposition to Obama had less to do with his skin color and more to do with his progressive ideological convictions that contradicted his professed Christian religious beliefs, and the traditional Christian viewpoints of his detractors. To say that all or most white Christians who opposed Barack Obama did so because of racial animus, without evidence, disingenuously disparages a large group of people with a very little consideration.

Jones asserts that the reality of systemic racism and homogenized social segregation validates his claim that there’s no social institution positioned to resolve problems stemming from racial discrimination (156). For Jones, this is simply a continuation of the historical patterns of racial discrimination by white Christians- particularly by evangelical Protestants (Southern Baptists). Mainline Protestants are almost given a pass- congratulated for their contribution to social justice work both historically and presently (177-78).

Coming to terms with the end of White Christian America has come in phases. Jones acknowledges that the weakening influence of mainline Protestants has been occurring since the 60s and 70s, so mainline Christians have had more time to experience the stages of grief, denial, anger and acceptance (200), though there continue to be some holdouts. Jones ostensibly scolds the Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD) in its mission to hold the mainline denominations religiously and theologically accountable to orthodox teaching, practically condemning its persistence in its refusal to accept the consequences of demise of White Christian America (200-201).

Evangelicals are on a different timeline and are presently, though reluctantly, coming to terms with their diminishing authority and influence, which Jones claims is the source of the angered outbursts (the Tea Party, and one assumes, support for Donald Trump) in refusing to accept the inevitable.

One cause for celebration about White Christian America’s declining political clout is that evangelicals can return to the biblical obligation of making Christian disciples, rather than trying to make political ones.

Yet there is some very noticeable but subdued cheerfulness by Jones for the end of White Christian America and one gets the sense that he’s not alone in his excitement. The celebration and joyfulness, though, should be measured.

As White Christian America has lost its strength both in real numbers and in cultural, moral, and political influence, something predictably rises to fill the vacancy. What that “something” is, isn’t always predictable. In this case it very much is. The social values and “virtues” of Leftism, has replaced the space and institutions once dominated by White Christian America. As we’ve seen in the academy, where religion- particularly Christianity- has been shamed into public silence and private expression, the receding influence and presence of “white” Christian America has allowed the academy to degenerate into a moral gutter. The same is true regarding the debased nature of the arts and entertainment, which have occupied spaces where Christianity served as a bulwark against its culturally corruptive influence. Is that a good thing, and if so, how and why?

No one, or at the very least, very few people maintain the idea that White Christian America was perfect. They missed the mark on some pretty important social issues because of their culturally homogenized, whitewashed, biblical hermeneutic. Despite Jones’ underlying tone, the values of White Christian America- specifically Judeo Christian values- provided a semblance of unity against the proven destructive nature of pluralism that lead to the many damaging effects of relativism.

Despite the not-so-subtle excitement for the culmination of Christian influence on American culture, the analyses provided by Jones makes The End of White Christian America worth reading.