Dear Reformed Evangelicals, there is something I need to tell you, but I don’t think you will like it. I’ve wanted to tell you this for a very long time, but I have withheld because I know how it is going to make some of you react. I have already seen it on social media. If I say what I want to say, some of you will hate me. You will accuse me of not believing the gospel, and you will misrepresent me as a means of discrediting my words. To be honest with you, that is why I think what I am going to say needs to be said. Evangelical brother, why do you tell me you hate white supremacy when your favorite theologians were slave masters? You tell me you hate the rise of white supremacy that we see in our culture, but your ideal past time is to dwell in the writings of slave master theologians. You love to talk about the wealth of resources they’ve produced as if that is a sign of intellectual prowess and not the freedom of time one is granted when they own other human beings who provide them with free labor. You love to talk to me about their “big God theology” as if their doctrine of divine providence wasn’t intellectual fuel used to justify man-stealing. Here is the thing, your “heroes of the faith” would’ve sought to own me. Yes, I am light skinned, and so they would’ve probably kept me to serve them in the house, but my brother and mother would be working their fields.
The saddest part about this whole thing is that you defend the wickedness of slavery and treat it as if it was just some standard sinful practice. You often act as if the institution did not include rape, molestation, torture, murder, theft, kidnapping, and a host of other evils. Your heroes may not have done these things, but they still defended the institution knowing full well what it included. More than that, as ministers, they defended the institution with the bible & theology and essentially gave every slave master a divine permission slip to do evil. Instead of genuinely being grieved by these realities, you defend your Christian heroes by calling them “products of their time”. You say this despite the fact that there were faithful Christians during their time that refused to bow their knee to the culture. If you are honest, you know there is a double standard here. You are often extremely quick to question the salvation of Christians today that you believe have bowed the knee to culture; for example current sexual ethics. You will condemn those today for being overly influenced by culture while at the same time you will champion men of old that bowed their knees to the culture of white supremacy. Why?
Over the past weeks, a decent amount of articles and justifications have been written about these men, especially George Whitefield. One of the things I’ve noticed about many of these articles is that they can often have a condescending tone to them. Usually, defenses are made for these men in such a way where African American concerns are presented as being overly-sensitive. It often seems like there is an assumption that African Americans are the weaker brother, and as you champion these men, you need to do so considering our feelings and not being a “stumbling block” to us. On the surface, this may seem noble; however, it is far from it. Beloved family, we are not the weaker brothers in this scenario. You championing slave masters is not a stumbling block for us, the stumbling block is you all being called out on your hypocrisy. It is right and righteous for us to have a problem with our faith family esteeming white supremacists. Many of us have dwelt in spaces where we have bitten our tongue for years every time you praised such people. We had a problem with it, but we knew how you’d react if we pushed back. We knew if we challenged you on your heroes, you’d flip the script and act as if we are the immature ones for not extending grace. Despite the fact that these men were not repentant, but died supporting white supremacy. These men are your stumbling block, they are not ours. We put up with your praise of them because we recognize you treasure them and don’t want to burst your bubble. We overlook your weakness to champion white supremacists because we know how many of you will get if we challenge you on it. We recognize that these men were heretics. Great writers, thoughtful in reflections, but still heretics as they perverted the doctrine of the Imago Dei and weaponized the Bible and the Gospel for the purposes of oppression. They used the free grace of God as a tool to oppress those whom God made. You will go to war over modern day heretics while at the same time champion heretics of old. According to I John 4:20-21, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” I find it difficlt to reconcile texts like this with “God exalting ministries” of slave masters.
I have spent 6 years in evangelical academia and 15 years within reformed evangelicalism. It still amazes me how the vast majority of people who seek to defend Whitefield & Edwards ultimately do so by presenting an argument that essentially says, “slavery wasn’t that big of a deal, get over it.” Many reformed evangelicals will look at Hitler and declare him an anti-Christ and wicked beyond measure. They will even look to a man like Obama and consider him an anti-Christ because of his stance on abortion, but Trump is just another president, and slavery is just another kind of sin. Some of you will look to me and call me a “cultural Marxist”, “agitator”, divisive”, and even question my salvation because I speak about racial trauma and biblical justice in the social realm for marginalized communities. At the same time, these men are your heroes. The fact is, as long as the demonic institution of slavery is downplayed and reformed evangelicals make heroes out of the men who practiced and defended it; I will continue to wonder if black lives matter to evangelical Christians. You can’t tell me you genuinely value me and at the same time treasure men who would’ve enslave me. You can’t tell me you want me to worship in your churches while at the same time you esteem men who would’ve had me chained to the pews of theirs. I can’t “reconcile” with that. There is no hope for real and genuine ethnic reconciliation in the church as long as that reconciliation is predicated on black Christians affirming your white supremacist heroes. I cannot reconcile with white supremacy and your defense and downplaying of it makes it hard to reconcile with you. If I’m honest, I often wonder if the reason why evangelicals seek to reconcile with all the nations around the world but ignore engagement with their black neighbors is that doing so allows them to claim Kingdom mindedness while still holding onto their white supremacist heroes.
My evangelical brothers and sisters, I love you. I’m rooting for you. I am hoping you will all one day wake up and crash idols. I am not telling you that you cannot learn from men who were slave masters. I have most of Edwards’ books and have read a ton of Whitefield. I am just waiting for the day you stop putting these men on pedestals and insisting that I do the same.
Kyle J. Howard currently serves the church as a Christian counselor. He is a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his associate degree in biblical/theological studies and a bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling. He currently lives in Atlanta & is finishing an advanced M. Divinity in Historical Theology and ultimately desires to pastor.