A story in today’s New York Times shed light on one of my biggest fears with the evangelical church: Unless it dealt with the differing perceptions of race among its members, the steps it’s taken toward reconciliation over the past couple of decades, becoming what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the “beloved community,” would be sabotaged.
The article focused on one African-American woman in Fort Worth, Texas, who left her largely-white church after the 2016 general election. You can almost guess why: Its members’ support, albeit more muted, of Donald Trump for president for “spiritual” reasons. Not helping matters, of course, was its previous unwillingness to address shootings of African-American men in some high-profile situations.
I’ve seen this up-close and personal. Last week a musician friend who is African-American walked out of a service because the preacher supported Trump. And at my church, a number of white members left because, during our missions emphasis month in 2016, we adopted the slogan “Welcome the Stranger” and they believed it to be a shot at Trump because of his pronouncements against illegal immigration.
But make no mistake — this isn’t simply about “differing views.” This is about commitment to an ideological worldview more than the LORD or members of His Body who may actually feel pain because of it. In such an atmosphere fighting against legal abortion and for religious liberty trumps — no pun intended — loving people were they are, which I would submit is a form of idolatry.
Some of these same people wanted, wrongly, to blame President Obama for exploiting the racial divide — it’s wrong to do so because he fully intended to heal the breach. You can’t heal a breach if you don’t accept that it exists and that it might be your fault that it does in the first place.
And that may be one reason people, especially in their 20s, are leaving evangelical churches — having lived with diversity as a fact of life, they won’t deal with an institution that doesn’t respect those not like themselves.
Of course we lost evangelist Billy Graham a few weeks ago. Perhaps most people don’t know that he was an early integrationist when he started out, demanding that his crusades, even in his native South, be integrated; inviting a black man to be part of his staff at a time when that would have been unheard of and Dr. King to pray at a New York City crusade; and denouncing apartheid in South Africa.
I fear the progress we’ve made is being undone because of our unwillingness to consider others and make room for them.