With so many contemporary examples of racism in American society, it is tempting to see these as the actions of racist individuals. However, many social critics have increasingly pointed to the structure and system of racism as an active part of American society today, and the Church is no different. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling are joined by Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby), the president of The Witness, a Black Christian Collective, host of the podcast Pass the Mic, and the author of the new book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.
A friend recently shared this with me. Does anyone know if this project is still active? It looks like a fascinating public history project about one of America’s great abolitionists. Devout evangelicals like Walker were important anti-slavery voices in early America
Walker was a leader in the African American community in Boston, Massachusetts. He is best known for writing and distributing a pamphlet called David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. This was a passionate espousal of black liberation; a call to his “afflicted and slumbering brethren” to rise up and cast off the chains that bound their minds as well as their bodies.
An evangelical Christian, Walker was a deeply religious man. In his Appeal, he takes white Christians to task for supporting slavery and its savage and unchristian treatment of fellow human beings. Such treatment was not only inhumane, Walker asserted, it was also hypocritical: after fighting for emancipation from Britain and founding a nation based on equality, white Americans continued to enslave and degrade Black people throughout the Republic.
The Appeal was published at a time of growing resistance to slavery. Free Black communities were expanding, and slave rebellions were on the rise. Walker used underground networks to circulate copies of his pamphlet throughout the South. This effort has been called “one of the boldest and most extensive plans to empower slaves ever conceived” in the U.S. before the Civil War.
Read the rest here.
According to a recent Gallup survey, the born-again/evangelical population in this country is highest among blacks, “who are overall the most religious racial and ethnic group in the United States.” Gallup reports that 61% of blacks identify as “evangelical” or “born-again.” 38% of “non-Hispanic whites” claim the labels and 44% of Hispanics identify with the labels.
There is a lot more to unpack in this study. Read it here.
Rev. Gabriel C. Stovall, the senior pastor of the Butler Street Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, responds to Lawrence Ware, the African American Southern Baptist minister who recently announced in The New York Times that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention due to its failure to fully address racism. Read our post on Ware’s op-ed here.
Stovall has a different view. In a recent article at the website of The Biblical Recorder he explains why he is staying in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Here is a taste:
In mid-July I read an article published in The New York Times by a black brother in the gospel named Lawrence Ware, titled, “Why I’m leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.”
As I read it, I recognized many of his feelings of frustration, angst and disgust, particularly at what I considered to be needless semantical gymnastics around that much-publicized resolution at the SBC annual meeting against the racist Alt-Right movement.
I identified with his struggle to walk away from the convention. I’ve been a part of Southern Baptist life for almost eight years now. I serve as a part-time state missionary in Georgia for church planting and as a part-time campus ministries pastor for one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the state. I planted a church as a Southern Baptist pastor and have recently led my new congregation to connect with the convention.
But I’ll admit that the way some white evangelicals caped for President Donald Trump – despite so many reasons to leave his candidacy in the dust, as they would’ve done for a Democratic candidate with some of the same issues hovering over his/her head – and the selective, loud silence some have given to issues important to me as a black believer, black Southern Baptist and black father raising a black son, I have spent much time in prayer asking God to show me if I’m truly in the right place.
I was drawn to the convention because of its emphasis on ministry and missions. The substance over style approach to ministry was, and still is, refreshing.
And even despite its still predominantly white makeup, I saw and worked with diversity that I’d never had the privilege of working with before.
Like the Egyptian couple I consulted who were planting a church in a primarily Arabic-speaking part of metro Atlanta. Or a Hispanic mission that wanted to partner with my church plant to help us reach Spanish-speaking people in our context.
Or even the white pastor who opened his doors for my church plant, free of charge, and invited me to the table with a Vietnamese and Hispanic congregation, along with his own ethnically mixed membership, to create a Vacation Bible School-style sports camp that reached a rainbow of ethnicities in a culturally diverse Atlanta suburb.
Every time I was tempted to make that call and say, “I’m done,” or to just walk away quietly, it was those images – and more – that crept into my spirit, speaking what I believe to be the words of God in answer to my inquisitive prayers, telling me, “You can’t go. I’ve got more work for you here.”
Read the entire piece here.
Mary Beth Mathews is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Mary Washington. This interview is based on her new book, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars (University of Alabama Press, 2017).
JF: What led you to write Doctrine and Race?
MM: When I wrote my dissertation (which became my first book, Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South), I kept wondering why white fundamentalists tended to be displaced southerners. Men like John Roach Straton, William Bell Riley, and J.C. Massee all grew up in the south and moved north to promote their theology. As I researched them, I realized that I couldn’t answer that question and that there was a more important question staring me in the face: how did white fundamentalists interact with African American evangelicals. By all rights, there should have been a common theological bond between these two groups, but there was no real contact between them. That became the narrative of Doctrine and Race.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Doctrine and Race?
MM: Doctrine and Race argues that African American evangelicals were excluded from participation in the emerging fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century, yet they adhered to many of the same doctrinal and social views as white fundamentalists. Black evangelicals were not welcome at the fundamentalist table, in large part because white fundamentalists had created a racial definition of fundamentalism, one that depended on white interpretations of theology, culture, and religion, but these same black evangelicals turned that definition against white fundamentalists, arguing that no one who was a racist could claim the identity of Christian.
JF: Why do we need to read Doctrine and Race?
MM: Doctrine and Race illuminates the racial tensions within evangelical Christianity, tensions that continue to this day. Many American historians and pundits have tended to lump all evangelicals into a single category—one that is white by default. By examining the similarities and differences between white and black evangelicals and by tracing the exclusion of African Americans from larger discussions about theology and culture, we can better understand African American evangelicals, their political thinking, and current debates over religion and politics in the U.S.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
MM: That’s a tough question to answer, since my doctorate is in Religious Studies but with a focus on American and European Religious History. I’ve been interested in history since childhood, but my passion for the subject of American religious history really took off when I was an undergraduate and took a class with David L. Holmes at the College of William and Mary. I declared a religion major and never looked back, except for a stint working on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant.
JF: What is your next project?
MM: I’m finishing up an article on the American Baptist Theological Seminary, a joint venture started in the 1920s by the black National Baptist Convention and the white Southern Baptist Convention. This project grew out of the research I did for Doctrine and Race but never quite fit into the book itself. I’m also looking at taking some of the questions I asked in Doctrine and Race and applying them to emerging Pentecostal traditions in the early twentieth century.
JF: Thanks, Mary!
Michael Monescalchi is a graduate student in English at Rutgers University. Over at Common-place he reflects on Phillis Wheatley‘s poem “On Virtue” and her engagement with the theology of Jonathan Edwards.
Monescalchi writes: “Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can ‘guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul.”
Here is a taste of this piece:
In agreement with Edwards, Wheatley argues that Virtue is a divine and “sacred” quality (it is “array’d in glory from the orbs above”). Yet Wheatley additionally alludes to Edwards when she asks Virtue to “embrace” her soul and “guide [her] steps to endless life and bliss.” For in Freedom of the Will, Edwards also claims that one’s soul is capable of influencing the way one walks: “And God has so made and established the human nature . . . that the soul preferring or choosing such an immediate exertion or alteration of the body, such an alteration instantaneously follows. There is nothing else in the actings of my mind, that I am conscious of while I walk . . .” The reason that Edwards is conscious of nothing while he walks is because his newly converted soul has suspended “the actings of [his] mind.” By saying that his body only moves as a result of his soul’s and not his mind’s “preferring or choosing,” Edwards argues that when one undergoes a conversion experience and gives one’s self up to God, one no longer has complete control over one’s own body. Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can “guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul.
This idea that one’s spiritual status is reflected in the way one walks recurs in black evangelical writing in the early-national period, most especially in Lemuel Haynes’s sermons. Like Edwards and Wheatley before him, Haynes, in his 1776 sermon on John 3:3, argues that a converted man “evidences by his holy walk that he has a regard for the honour of God.” Though she was not a minister, Wheatley was, like Haynes, deeply invested in Edwards’s theology and advanced his theory of conversion. Placing Wheatley’s “On Virtue” in dialogue with the writings of other evangelical ministers, black or white, is one of the many ways that scholars can begin to value Wheatley as a formidable theological thinker in the colonial era.
Read the entire piece here.
Born and unborn.
Here is Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr. of the Church of God in Christ at yesterday’s March for Life. The Church of God in Christ is the largest African American denomination in the United States and the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. With 6.5 million members it is fifth largest denomination in the United States.
Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833) was a highly influential religious and anti-slavery leader. Among Haynes’s many firsts, he was the first African-American to be ordained to the Christian ministry and the first African-American to receive a college degree (an M.A. from Middlebury in 1804). After serving in the Continental Army during the Revolution, Haynes began his career as a minister in Rutland, Vermont, where he remained for thirty years. It was during this ministry that Haynes delivered his famous sermon, Universal Salvation, a Very Ancient Doctrine: with Some Account of the Life and Character of Its Author. Delivered as a response to a lecture by Hosea Ballou on the doctrine of universal redemption, Haynes’ Universal Salvation stands as one of the most famous and reprinted works of religious satire. This copy of the sermon, in Haynes own hand, contains more than sixty textual differences and three deletions from the printed copies. Including this copy, only three sermons in Haynes’s own handwriting are known to exist.
For more on Lemuel Haynes I recommend John Saillant’s Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes.
I am pleased to see that Miles Mullin of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a scholar who knows more about this subject than I do, has decided to weigh-in. Check out his post, “The Quandary of African American Evangelicalism.” Here is a taste:
In the twentieth century, African American leaders recognized that a successful struggle towards full equality depended upon solidarity, and they turned the racial identity hoisted upon them by others to their own purposes. As they struggled towards full equality, they embraced race vis-à-vis any denominational or pan-denominational (e.g. evangelicalism) as their primary self-identity. Early in the century, works written or edited by black intellectuals set the trajectory for this reality. Volumes by W.E.B. DuBois (The Negro Church, 1903), G. Carter Woodson (The History of the Negro Church, 1921), and Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph Nicholson (The Negro’s Church, 1933) demonstrate the manner in which doctrinal differences were subsumed by racial solidarity. Organizers and activists of a later generation followed in the same mold. Thus, Orthodox Presbyterian Minister C. Herbert Oliver, theologically progressive Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., and atheist A. Philip Randolph all made common cause in the freedom struggle for African American equality.
These historical developments in the twentieth century shaped the historiography of both African American religious history and evangelical history of the late twentieth century in two important ways. First, racial solidarity became the dominant historiographical lens through which African American religious history was assessed. For instance, despite the fact that groups such the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) differed in practice, religious commitment, and goals, the hegemony of race as an interpretive paradigm led many historians to synthesize and find continuity between the groups. Both Gayraud S. Wilmore’s acclaimed Black Religion and Black Radicalism and Baer and Singer’s useful African-American Religion in the Twentieth Century: Varieties of Protest and Accommodation serve as examples of this approach. Religious particularities were subsumed under rubrics such as the “black church.” Second, historians told the history of twentieth-century American evangelicalism largely without reference to African Americans. For example, one would be hard-pressed to find references to race or African Americans in the histories produced by Timothy Weber, George Marsden, Joel Carpenter, D.G. Hart and others in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. As evangelical historians spilled much ink over the issue of evangelical identity in the 1980s and 1990s, they largely ignored race as an important element of that question. Thus, history and historiography excluded African Americans from the twentieth-century evangelical narrative, just as it excluded any meaningful implementation of evangelical as a religious category from twentieth-century African American history. As a result, there is a paucity of works on African American evangelicalism qua evangelicalism.
For all its foibles, the racial reconciliation movement of the last few decades demonstrates that there is something that draws evangelicals together across racial lines, and recent historical works give hope that things are trending in a different direction historiographically. For example, A.G. Miller (Oberlin College) has written on Fundamentalist African American Bible Schools and studies of black Pentecostalism have proliferated, while historians of evangelicalism have intentionally embraced race as a category of analysis. (Mark Noll’s American Evangelical Christianity and God and Race in American Politics are good examples.) Hopefully, additional works of this sort will continue to emerge, eventually leading to a general work on black evangelicalism in the twentieth century. If it does, I suspect we will learn some things about evangelicalism—black and white—that we did not know before.