Black and Enchained: Unity and The Chains of Evangelical Republicanism

I am often told by those who belong to the majority culture, that it is ethnic idolatry to consider myself an African-American Christian rather than just a Christian. Supposedly, the gospel eradicates or is at least supposed to render ethnic identity inconsequential. I often wonder whether or not this same principle or rule applies to the majority culture church and the identity it finds in the Republican Party. It often seems that there is a greater measure of acceptance within Evangelicalism for a Christian to identify themselves with the Republican Party than there is for a saint to find a sense of identity or belonging within their ethnic heritage. Allow me to elaborate with a story.

For the sake of the narrative, let’s give the character of this story an ethnic neutral name such as John. John is an African American Christian who came to Christ through the faithful gospel ministry of a black church. John was a former gang member and so prior to Christ he had somewhat of an understanding concerning the nature of community. Still, as he joined this black church, he found a deeper sense of community than he ever knew before coming to Christ. The community was genuine and deep. John, however, began growing in his theology and doctrine and began to find himself uncomfortable in the congregation due to significant differences regarding his biblical convictions. The disconnect intensified once John got married to a woman who was a minority but not an African American. John and his wife decided to leave their black church and join a majority culture church (white church) because there was a greater measure of doctrinal agreement there. John just so happened to join this church at the beginning of the same year that Barack Obama became a contender for the presidency. John was excited to witness the potential rise of the first black President. He remembered the first time he heard Obama speak at a convention. Obama spoke about the plights plaguing the black community and how he desired to change them. Obama himself had tears in his eyes and John remembered weeping at Obama’s words as he saw for the first time in his life, a politician who actually cared about minorities. Furthermore, a politician who was a black man who was able to speak in a way in which his message was being received by the majority culture as well. Despite being deeply grieved by Obama’s stance on Abortion, John was still happy to see representation. John, however, was now a member of a majority culture church and he learned quickly that within his current context, there were two kinds of heresy. There was theological heresy and political heresy. John learned that if he wanted to be accepted in the community, he had to avoid any charges of political heresy and so he kept his joy bottled up inside.

Days went by and the vitriol and disdain his covenant faith members had for Obama became more and more intense. John wanted to speak up and inform the church about the hope the President symbolized for marginalized minorities but he couldn’t. How could he speak up when he is commanded to be at peace with all men? Doesn’t speaking up about the hope Obama represents constitute disturbing the peace of the Church? So, John remained silent. Yet, for anyone truly listening, the silence of his voice only magnified the sounds of a breaking heart as his faith family tore down what to him was a symbol of ethnic reconciliation. As time went on, John moved to other churches that he agreed with doctrinally. John himself was politically conservative, but he couldn’t in good conscience identify with either party. Secretly, he admired the first family, but he knew he couldn’t tell anyone other than his wife and family who also saw Obama as a symbol of hope and not just a political figure head or policy maker. After all, John wanted to be a pastor, and the last thing he needed was to be placed under the microscope anymore than he already felt he was. You see, the issue wasn’t politics. He didn’t agree with Obama’s politics. The issue for John was; he couldn’t rejoice in the reality of a black President because “Evangelicalism” would not allow him to compartmentalize. Obama was a liberal and therefore evil, there was no middle ground for John if he wanted to be accepted and perceived as an equal rather than perceived with suspicion. John sacrificed his joy in the first black president for the sake of unity within his church community. Then came #BlackLivesMatter and later  Donald Trump. The same church tradition that demanded he hate Obama now demanded that he deny Civil Justice and support a presidential candidate who showed clear signs of racism. John refused to be silent concerning social injustice and he refused to support Trump and because of that, he lost much of the community he worked towards. In fact, when John spoke out against Donald Trump and defended social justice, he received many inquiries from his friends in the faith asking him, “Why are you speaking out, I thought you were one of us?” John often felt, isolated, alone, and confused. He belonged to a Faith Family but he often felt as if he was a stepchild locked away in an attic, never able to join the rest of the family at the living room table. John felt encaged in his home spiritual home.

Over the past several months, I have spoken to dozens of Johns. Men and women of color who share in camaraderie the story I have written above. Obviously, there are elements of this story that are personal to me and others that are the testimonies of others. There is a multitude of conservative black Christians who feel encaged within their own covenant faith families. Allow me to share specifically, aspects of my story which I have come to learn is the story of many them:

I have spent the past eight years of my life despising a man because of his policies and because of my inner desire to be accepted by my white conservative brothers and sisters. I have sat by as they have maligned his character, have criticized his family, and have called him every name in the book. On many occasions, I even joined in the hyper-criticism. When I reflect on 2016, there is a deep sense of regret and remorse that I feel. I regret that I allowed my joy in ethnic progression (first black president) to be taken away from me for the sake of winning acceptance. It hurts deeper when I realize how little the sacrifice actually won me. I essentially gave up the joy I should’ve had in the inauguration of the first black president for nothing. As long as I opposed Obama, I was accepted by the majority culture church, but the moment I spoke out concerning minority issues, I still lost that acceptance.

Then came Trump. Obama has been an exceptional husband and father. He has been a man of outstanding character (despite my disagreements with him on some SERIOUS policy issues). Trump came along as a living embodiment of everything Christians are called to abhor and the same people who demanded my allegiance against Obama were now demanding I support Trump. Despite my years of advocacy for the unborn, I was told that I was pro-abortion if I didn’t support Trump.

2016 was a rough year for me; it was a year that left my family an emotional and at times a spiritual train wreck. It was also the year that I became free! It was the year that I came to find comfort fully in who I am in Christ and no longer live in a way that seeks to gain the approval of my white brothers and sisters. Though I still Lament the fruit of many of Obama’s policies, I am beyond thankful for the dignity and grace he has brought to the presidency. He has been an example to American men regarding what it means to be a committed husband and faithful father. Despite the racism and opposition he received from day one, he has persevered in seeking to unify people of all ethnic backgrounds. I admire him and his family. I guess at the end of the day; I have two points to this post.

1. The yoke of cultural acceptance many black conservative Christians have to carry is too heavy for any man to bear. Don’t underestimate the loneliness minority Christians may experience trying to simply be accepted by their majority culture brethren. Often, it’s to no avail. Every Christian to some extent will experience persecution. For the minority, we do not only have to experience persecution from unbelievers but the persistent thorn that pricks us with a sense of not ever truly belonging.

2. Be free. Do not allow the expectations of others to stifle who God has made you to be. You are to be faithful to God, and if you preoccupy yourself with the opinions of others, you will spend all your energy seeking to please them and you will have little energy left to be faithful to God. Cast off whatever chains of expectation others have sought to shackle you with and live for God.

I remain a black conservative Christian. I find it extremely difficult, in fact, impossible to reconcile abortion with the Christian Faith. I believe that it is equally impossible to reconcile non-traditional marriage with Christianity as well. Politically, I am actually for limited government (with caveats), and I am not a democrat or liberal concerning my political perspectives or theological convictions. This post is not a recommendation or referral for blacks to join the Democrat Party. I am an independent. This post is intended to reflect the dangers of elevating political party affiliation to an unhealthy place of devotion which compromises true biblical unity. It is also a call to the majority culture church to understand that President Obama represented much more to the African American community than simply a president. Barack Obama was a symbol of hope and change concerning the direction of their country. The ridicule and hatred that has been spewed towards Obama over the past 8 years have been received as more than just an attack on a president from the majority of blacks in America. It was perceived as an attack on the symbol Obama represented. For many minorities in the church, the statement received by these actions was that the majority culture members of their churches were not truly committed to ethnic reconciliation or empathy.

I Corinthians 4:1-5
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @KyleJamesHoward. Also, check out my podcast “Coram Deo Podcast” which focuses on issues concerning Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology. You can search for podcast on any major podcast catcher, listen on the web here, follow updates @CoramDeoPodcast, or just click the artwork below.

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About Kyle James Howard

My name is Kyle, I am married to my “high-school sweetheart” and we have 3 children. I have a 7 year-old daughter (Hadassah), a 2 year-old son (Jonah), and 1 year old (Kesed). I am 32 years old and I am currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have an Associates degree in Biblical & Theological Studies, A B.S. in Biblical Counseling, and I am finishing up an Advanced M. Div in Historical Theology. Click on the "About Me" link at the top of my home page to read my full testimony.

3 Responses to “Black and Enchained: Unity and The Chains of Evangelical Republicanism”

  1. Frances Thompson January 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I’m white but your words rang true for me as well. My identity is in Christ, not the religious right, and I have felt the sting of not hopping on that bandwagon. I didn’t vote for Obama but could see the hope in the faces of those watching him at his inauguration, and it woke me up to what it meant for minorities, it brought me to tears. I don’t agree with his politics but I admire the way he and his family have lived and loved each other, stayed above reproach in so many ways. But to articulate those feelings would open me up to the same criticism I’ve have already had to listen to, without being heard. Thank you for writing this, you put into words what I haven’t been able to.

  2. Morénike Giwa Onaiwu January 17, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Thank you for this post. I am a black Christian (though not conservative), and I understand much of what you are sharing here. I am grateful to you for becoming FREE, for whom the Sons sets free is free indeed. I am sorry you lost eight years stifling yourself, but prayerfully this painful experience will help you to support the many other “Johns” as well as “Joans” and “Juans” and everyone else who has also been betrayed and disappointed by the hypocrisy and the bigotry much of the Christian majority culture/white community has shown with regard to President Obama and Mr. Trump.

    Also, thank you for making it clear that it is possible – as you do – to disagree with President Obama’s politics while still respecting the man – and not only respecting him, but acknowledging his positive qualities as a leader, as a person of color, as a man, as a father. Something that it seemed the evangelical community intentionally failed to notice.

    Be blessed, and stay strong.

  3. Well said! I am a white Christian woman who is still conservative politically because of the reasons you gave. I am also a 60’s child who poured her heart and soul into Civil Rights so I cried all the way through President Obama’s first anaugaration because it was such a victory for all we fought for. As a white woman, I could stand up to the Chrisrian trash talk without fear of being cut off but I can see why you had to pick a side and go deep to stay connected with your spiritual community. That simple difference between my freedom and yours speaks volumns to how much needs to done. I really hoped my generation had made this better for yours and am sorry and heart broken for how much more we need to do. The Obama family is gracious and regal and I cried when he flew off in that hellicopter – still disagreeing with his politics but knowing what he meant to our nation and that he represented those of us who care so deeply about racism honarably. May I share?

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