“If I support Trump, what could I say to the African-Americans in my church?” White evangelical pastor, Birmingham, Alabama.
Some white evangelical elites opposed President Trump to dissociate from racism. In so doing, they misled their erstwhile followers, abandoned the unborn, became the tool of one political party, and harmed African-Americans to boot. Unless they wise up, they’ll do more damage.
These mainly Reformed evangelical elites are my theological homeboys. I never tire of pointing my students to their books, blogs, ministries, and websites. Yet most of them, except Wayne Grudem, opted to virtue signal rather than offer good gospel guidance in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
The prospect of revisiting, curtailing, or overturning Roe v. Wade alone justified a vote for Trump. Grudem set forth an array of additional reasons why a vote for Trump would be a good moral choice. None had a snowball’s chance of even appealing to, much less of convincing, these NeverTrumpers.
Opposition to Trump promised to feed, but not satisfy their hunger to dissociate from racism. This longing long preceded and shall long outlast Trump. Unlike NeverTrumpism itself, it can claim genuine gospel roots: the longing to do right by race in America.
I share this longing, so it’s my turn to virtue signal. From birth, growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, my father nurtured in me a reflexive recoil against even the slightest appearance of racism. Three black women contributed mightily to my raising and spiritual formation.
Between 1968 and 1974, my father, a Little League baseball coach, helped to integrate the city summer league teams. Black players were welcomed into my home. Our family was castigated as “N-word-lovers.” Our house and car were egged more than once. I watched tears flow freely down my father’s face after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. My father was and remains my hero. And I dutifully voted Democrat.
So to the white reformed evangelical elites grieved over race, I am tempted to say, “I more, of the tribe of Benjamin, Pharisee of the Pharisees, circumcised the eighth day,” and all the rest. But neither the fact nor the depth of this grief guarantees a thing about either my diagnoses of or my prescription for the race challenges of our time.
I Listened, and Learned a Lot
But the posture the white grievers have taken on race does commend itself. J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, sets it forth every chance he gets—the white men need to begin “with listening, not talking.” Well and good. Experience cannot guarantee wisdom (old fools exist!), but personal experience provides an opportunity for learning and wins a sympathetic hearing the inexperienced have not earned. And none of us white men have ever been black men. So listen first.
That’s what I did. Started listening about the year Greear was born. This was BT, before Thabiti—that’s Thabiti Anyabwile, the African-American pastor who adopted his current name after converting to Islam before converting to Christianity. He’s the designated chief teacher to the white men. So I listened to him, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowry, and others, and learned a lot.
What I didn’t realize then, and what the white NeverTrumpers show no signs of realizing now, is that majority, establishment black race teaching functions a bit like a Trojan horse. Its exterior promises help for whites to get race right, but inside a long and slow-cooked stew swirls with ready-made race diagnoses and prescriptions. Among the ingredients are identity politics, intersectionality, what John McWhorter calls “the cult of victimhood,” entitlement, white privilege, diversity, reparations, open borders, catastrophizing racism, and catastrophizing sensitivity violations.
The pot’s been cooking since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Whatever seems to serve the electoral interests of the Democrat Party is thrown in. Whoever partakes of this Trojan horse’s insides, wittingly or not, becomes a tool of one political party.
They seem not to see it, but it was not Grudem nor the majority of evangelicals, the rank and file non-elite evangelical Trump voters, who put politics before all else in 2016—it was them. Remember? As two Baylor sociologists assured us, “You can’t be a Christian and vote for Trump.” They were drunk with the Trojan horse stew ladled out to elites far and wide.
President Trump Is Post-Racial, Not a Racist
The catastrophizing of race and of sensitivity violations are key. This rendered the rise of evangelical NeverTrumpism all but inevitable. Under such conditions, Trump’s rise constituted an emergency.
But that’s not because he is a racist or a white supremacist. Sen. Lindsey Graham nailed it: Trump is “absolutely not” racist, “he’s a street fighter.” He does not care what color you are. If you love him, he loves you, and the reverse. Trump is an equal opportunity insulter.
Trump presents more as post-racial or a-racial. The result is Guinness Book-level racial insensitivity. That’s more than enough to trip the race alarms set by the Democrat Party with help from the mainstream media, Hollywood, social platforms galore, Thabiti, and whoever imbibes that stew bubblin’ inside that horse.
Thabiti voted for Hilary in 2016 and assured us that Roe v. Wade was not sufficient to justify a vote for Trump. Abandoning the unborn this election cycle was admittedly unfortunate, even tragic, but with that race alarm pulled and the sirens screaming and all, well, it was an emergency. Evangelicals, according to Thabiti, “made a Faustian bargain for the mere price of a Supreme Court nominee.” Recall that Faust made a deal with the devil.
Once that devil Trump’s racially insensitive mouth is shouted down and Trump himself is shown the door, then and only then, but definitely then, at last, with the race alarm re-set, concern for murder-marked babies and the Supreme Court can recommence.
New Teachers and a New Listener
With due modesty and visible docility, the white men listened to the teacher and nodded. I’ve been there and done that, listening to Abernathy, Lowry, Jackson, and the rest. Then I ran into new teachers as black as the ones I already had. Unlike Thabiti, these teachers actually came of age under Jim Crow, particularly Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele.
These new black teachers taught me that, at least on race, the ideas of Thabiti and of my former teachers are not only wrong, they are harmful to American society, especially to blacks. They also taught me that these pernicious ideas make whites, especially elite whites, feel better about themselves. So they lap it up.
Oh my! What’s a well-meaning, grieved-over-race, listening white man to do? If intersectionality shifts authority on race from the white men to Thabiti, where does that leave Thabiti in relation to these Jim Crow-experienced men now universally impugned as Uncle Toms by the majority of black Americans and Democrats?
Want a national conversation on race? Set Thabiti down in a little chat session with Sowell and Steele, with the cameras running. Now who needs to listen rather than talk?
As a white man I have nothing to tell Thabiti about race except that I agree with the black teachers who disagree with him. But to the white men I say this: you’re not doing near enough listening.
If you’re a thinker by instinct, let Sowell bury you over and over again with facts Thabiti either does not know or does not mention in public. If you’re a feeler like me, start with Steele. He’s the psychologist and physician of the soul here.
Want to be productively ashamed of yourself in a whole new way? Steele can make it happen. He’ll expose how self-serving is the Trojan horse-induced rhythmic oscillation between first feeding then temporarily assuaging the white guilt that only harms the blacks you ostensibly mean to help or at least wish to be seen to care about. He will show you that you are mainly in this for yourselves, not blacks.
Sowell and Steele expose the bitter fruit borne of white-guilt efforts to do right by race, all the patronizing, exploiting, and infantilizing of African-Americans while intermittently genuflecting before them for the cameras. Sound like fun learning ahead? It’s not.
Think you’re courageous prophets crying in the wilderness, standing firm with only each other and CNN to pat you on the head? Buckle up if you trade in Thabiti for Sowell and Steele. Drink this elixir and you’ll find yourself a deplorable skulking around with other deplorables and a couple of ostracized, brilliant, Jim Crow-tempered Uncle Toms.
Want to reach and retain more African-Americans in your majority-white churches, the quintessential Christian badge of dissociation from white racism? That might be a tough pull. But you’ll get race more right than you are now, and do less harm to everyone concerned.