Thursday, December 17, 2009

The final frontier

I have mentioned in other entries that during services on the Sunday after last year's general election, the pastor of my interracial evangelical church had all of us African-Americans stand and then instructed the rest of the congregation lay hands on us, saying that "a spiritual stronghold has been broken."

He did that because he knew he had a politically divided congregation, with most of the whites likely supporting John McCain for president that year, indeed, two weeks previously he preached against such division during the campaign. (This is an evangelical church, after all, and polls indicated that 70 percent of white evangelicals nationally backed the Republican candidate.) By contrast, 95 percent of African-Americans, regardless of faith affiliation, supported Barack Obama.

I've been heartened with the serious efforts that have been made over the past couple of decades toward racial reconciliation among evangelicals -- the Promise Keepers started it all, of course, and some denominations and parachurch groups have made serious strides toward such harmony. However, we have yet to address the ideological differences that still exist, and until that's done we will not achieve it.

Because, bottom line, the issue is one of worldview.

When I became a Christian in 1979, the conservative movement in general and "religious right" in particular was just kicking into gear, with its primary target being government, especially the Feds. The complaint was that it had overstepped its constitutional authority by passing laws and using tax money for purposes it didn't agree with, most notably "Great Society" programs that benefited the poor. More to the point, however, conservatives demonstrated an assumption that authority, whether cultural, social or political, was their right.

African-Americans, on the other hand, historically have had different issues. Most identify with the civil-rights movement, which used the Federal government, including court decisions and legal remedies, to obtain justice (because state and local authorities opposed their efforts). And they -- we -- didn't have the same access to the power structure; thus, it had to be done through moral appeals.

Sadly, in part for that reason, the civil-rights movement eventually pitted one set of Christians against another set of Christians. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1955 was just a local pastor in Montgomery, Ala., was later denounced as a Communist, and the resentment among white conservatives became so strong toward the national Democratic Party for supporting civil rights that in 1966 the Republican Party, practically non-existent in the South then but already leaning to the right nationally, saw an opening and began running candidates there.

That's the reason that you almost never see African-Americans on Christian TV or hear them on Christian radio; when you do it's in support of the "approved" viewpoint that doesn't accurately reflect the overall views of the black community -- which generally aren't right-wing. I find very interesting that conservatives talk about reaching out to the black community but simply to put a "black face" -- and yes, you can take that as a pun -- on policies and attitudes most blacks just don't accept.

Talk-show blowhard Rush Limbaugh said that, after Obama won that high percentage of the black vote, his color was the primary reason that African-Americans voted for him. Nonsense -- had McCain been black and Obama white, blacks (even evangelicals) would still have voted for Obama, overwhelmingly, or turned out for Hillary Clinton in virtually identical numbers had she won the Democratic nomination. And I'm sure you noticed that the anti-Obama "tea party" movement that got started in April is virtually all-white -- think that's a coincidence? African-Americans just don't have the fear of government that white conservatives do.

For there to be true reconciliation between black and white evangelical Christians, whites have to understand the views and histories of their black brothers and sisters and not believe that they have the last word when it comes to social and political involvement. (For what its worth, African-Americans already understand the conservative view and have rejected it; it's up to the conservatives to find out why.)

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