We all watched George Floyd die.
We listened to him crying out for nine minutes for breath and for his mother as a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
The video was nothing short of a national trauma.
Cities, suburbs and even small towns erupted with protests and riots in the days and weeks that followed.
Social media became a firestorm of fury as folks took to posting from all conceivable angles in response to Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests.
For many young evangelicals, President Trump’s election in 2016 solidified the contradictions of evangelical faith in America.
Lackluster, deflective and even blatantly racist responses to the latest wave of racial violence have further clarified the streak of social apathy among the evangelical ranks.
A crucial step in this reformation work is rerooting evangelicalism within both the historic evangelical and broader Christian tradition.
This work includes reckoning with the tradition’s demons and the ways these demons persist today.
One such demon is evangelicalism’s accommodation to hyperpartisan politics.
There is a stark contrast between our devotion to the prolife cause and religious freedom on the one hand and our passivity on issues of racial justice and hospitality to immigrants on the other.
This disparity reveals the ways we’ve adopted a worldview that more closely resembles Republican politics than the spirit of the Gospels.
When our faithfulness to a particular political mold is greater than our sense of compassion and justice for those outside our tribe, we are dealing in idolatry.
It would be wise to reassess our enmeshment with Republican politics that run counter to the character of Christ.
We need to take a long, hard look at many of the -isms we uphold as inherent goods, particularly nationalism, capitalism, militarism and their covert cousin – racism.
White evangelicals have trouble seeing the reality of racism today because they now hide in the guise of socially acceptable language.
Trump’s evangelical-backed MAGA rhetoric is a prime example. The fact is America has never been great for people of color.
The melancholic nostalgia for an American past slipping out of our grasp is ultimately a sentimentalization of a time when whiteness was less challenged by varying forms of non-whiteness.
MAGA bears eerie similarities to the “Lost Cause” rhetoric used by postabolition white Southerners who longed for a bygone era when whiteness reigned uncontested in America.
Evangelicals have also allowed uncritical patriotism to creep into our churches and set up camp in our hearts.
This boundless devotion to the American nation fails to reckon with our country’s many forms of violence.
The United States was founded not on Christian values but on Enlightenment principles of rationalism, individualism and efficiency.
The colonialist project put these principles into practice all around the globe, including in America.
Unfortunately, these Western ideals have proven quite violent toward both land and people, particularly those with nonwhite skin, both near and far.
To disentangle our patriotism and our religion, we need to come to grips with a heritage in which chattel-slavery agriculture, rapacious industrialism and an unjust “free” market have prospered.
In reckoning with these dubious roots of white evangelicalism, there are three particular steps we can take:
- Stop watching news commentary that fans the flames of division.
These news sources train us to view all of life in us-vs.-them binaries that are lacking in love.
When we saturate our minds with negative rhetoric about “the other,” we start to believe bringing God’s kingdom to earth is synonymous with fighting the culture wars.
The culture-wars ideology is the single greatest idol of white evangelicalism.
- Read theologians and historians from the margins.
Go through your bookshelves and count how many white-authored books you have. Then count how many you have written by people of color.
When we read almost exclusively white writers, it’s no wonder we are incapable of understanding nonwhite experiences.
- Cultivate existing relationships with friends of color. Join a racial reconciliation group.
Practice a posture of humility and be slow to speak before you have thoroughly listened.
Let’s all metaphorically “pass the mic,” take a seat in the pews and learn to sit under people-of-color wisdom. As white Christians, we’ve had the mic long enough.
It’s uncomfortable to step out of our privileged distance and stretch our empathy toward those we don’t understand. Let’s follow the Black church’s lead and learn to live with less power. This is the way of the crucified Christ.