Friday, March 07, 2008

Divided By Obama

Who would have thought that Barack Obama could be so divisive? I’m sure you’ve seen the debate that’s lately raged across the reformed evangelical photosphere concerning Senator’s Obama’s view on abortion and those who identify themselves as evangelicals who haven’t completely ruled out voting for him despite those views. Our good brother and fellow elder Thabiti Anyabwile has written an excellent post addressing this from one angle and recently penned a follow up to it. Justin Taylor has posted several pieces (here, here and here) and referenced a number of others. Anthony Carter also wrote a very helpful article on Senator Obama.

My hope in writing this is not to pour gas on a raging fire but to add some insight that I pray will bring black and white bible believing Christians together in a dialogue that needs to happen. I write this from a position of having spent significant time among black bible believing Christians and white evangelicals. I don’t want to begin with Senator Obama or his position on abortion. But before going on please understand that I think it is wrong and ungodly. I also believe that it is an inconsistent position. For justice for the poor and powerless must extend to all those without power whether born, just born or unborn.

And this is where the quandary lies for me and many other African-American believers. On the one hand we don’t in any way support Senator Obama’s or the Democratic parties position on abortion or gay marriage for that matter. At the same time myself along with most of the black believers I know support some form of gun control, believe that government can play a more constructive role in our lives than most conservatives believe, don’t believe universal healthcare is a horrible idea, aren’t for a huge military, and believe that tax cuts aren’t the only way to stimulate the economy. And yes, most African-American believers I know still support some form of affirmative-action.

Apart from that most black Christians I know believe that we still live in a country where systematic injustice plays apart in opportunities for blacks and whites. That doesn’t mean we’re convinced that it’s still 1968, but neither do we think that America has reached the point where all of us are genuinely judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. Does that mean that all African-American believers hold these positions? Of course not. But part of the challenge I found in living and serving among white evangelicals is that they tend to only listen to those blacks who agree with them and hold them out as the examples that all other African-Americans should follow. This prevents having an ongoing dialogue to discover why African-Americans hold these positions.
Having lived and served in a white, evangelical church and observed plenty of Christian conservative I can say that most white evangelicals I know stand on the opposite side of those issues.

But that’s not the heart of the matter. It’s the way both group view the issues of race, class, opportunity, etc. and how they affect black people. And this is where the abortion issue is affected. From my experience (which is not universal) many of the white evangelicals I know and spoke with regarding these things did not believe that this country still had substantial challenges that revolved around ethnicity. They did not believe there were any true instances of systematic injustice only isolated occasions of ignorant behavior. And when blacks spoke to them or related examples of racism they then questioned our perception. For example I read an article from a conservative commentator about the incidents of racism that occurred in a MD Denny’s in the mid-nineties. His conclusion was that the problem wasn’t racism but black people’s failure to recognize plain old poor service. It seemed that whenever we began to speak of racism our white brothers marginalized our thoughts and feelings by saying that it was only the media stirring up more trouble or Jesse Jackson wanting to stay in the limelight.

On top of that there were the constant negative jokes, emails and stories about President Bill Clinton and his wife. Another example: during Mr. Clinton’s presidency I had the opportunity to hear a major evangelical speaker (most of you would know of him) in northern VA. Before the message he had a conversation with someone as a way of introducing him that evening. The speaker mentioned being invited to the White House for some event and went on for a few minutes describing his time there. At one point the announcer asked if he met and spoke with the president. When he replied ‘yes’ the MC followed up by asking sarcastically ‘well how is she’? Most everyone in the audience broke out laughing at the joke. However I noticed that most of the blacks in the room neither smiled or thought it was funny.

Sorry for the long post, but I feel it’s necessary to tell my white brothers and sisters that for many of us the way you view race, your disdain for Democrats in general and the Clintons in particular display your utter lack of real concern for us and the issues our communities face. To be straight brothers and sisters most of us scoff at your declarations that the church not the government should advocate for the poor knowing that most of your churches are structured to spend their resources on their members and not poor black people. We view you with skepticism at best and hypocrisy at worst when you compare abortion to slavery, tell us that we of all people should be on the front lines fighting against it and then are among the most resistant when it comes to America offering an official apology for slavery.

Most of us are convinced that if abortion were outlawed tonight and we turned to you for support in the other issues important to us that you would retreat into your conservative political ideologies and we would be on our own. Please, please understand, I’m not writing this to raise your level of guilt. Nor am I asking you to look at issues involving ethnicity the exact same way the many of your African-American brothers and sisters do. I do believe that we would all do well to sit down, have a frank talk on why we are where we are, consider the possibility of changing the way we approach politics and seek the Lord on impacting this country with His peace, righteousness and justice for the sake of the gospel.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


Ben Stevenson said...

"To be straight brothers and sisters most of us scoff at your declarations that the church not the government should advocate for the poor knowing that most of your churches are structured to spend their resources on their members and not poor black people."

I think families and then churches should have the primary responsibility for the poor.

"But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God....
...If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need." -- 1 Timothy 5:4,16 (NIV)

The idea of this passage is that people in need turn to their families first, and the church second if their family cannot help. Maybe the government could have a role where both these have failed. If families and churches acted how they should, then there would not be such an urgent need for government welfare programmes.

I think families and churches should be able to offer genuine relationship and personal commitment, as well as material help, and so should be able to provide better care than the government.

I think this will take decades for churches to be fully playing the role they should - particularly in the UK, where I live, where the church is smaller, and personal charitable giving lower than in the USA. When that happens it will be an easy case for reductions in the welfare state.

Dan Leman said...

Pastor Lance,

Thanks for your post. I'm a white student at Covenant Seminary in STL, and I'm trying to extract the log from my eye as I write this. I agree that your worst-case scenario of the black community being abandoned by white evangelicals once abortion is outlawed would be a horrible thing. I don't think it would happen, but it would be horrible. That being said, even if it did happen, wouldn't it still be worth it to end abortion?

From my perspective, the logic goes like this: I vote Republican for lots of reasons, including many of the ones you listed. However, if the roles were switched and the Dems became the pro-life party, I would vote against my self-interest in a heartbeat if it meant bringing to an end THE great moral tragedy of our time.

What am I missing? Please rebuke me if I'm out of line.

wwdunc said...


May I respond to your comments?

Thinking of your hypothetical statement that if the black community was abandoned by white evangelicals, after having worked together to end abortion, it would still be worth having worked together to end abortion (did I get that right?):

As I think about it, it seems to me it would not be worth it because the subsequent abandonment would mean that the whites really didn't care about the people in the black community from the start. A cause was more important to them than people.

Another thing that I'm not sure I'm ready to embrace is the idea that abortion is "THE great moral tragedy of our time." I'm not convinced biblically or otherwise that abortion is "THE great moral tragedy." I'm not sure if other black believers are ready to agree with that statement, either. Racial discrimination/prejudice within the Body of Christ would seem to me to be a greater tragedy than abortion out in the world.

The world doesn't know Christ--they are condemned already. Are we surprised that they would perform and approve of abortions? Those in the world are just acting like the wordlings they are. However, when Christians harbor racist attitudes, we're not acting as those who have been redeemed; we're acting just like the world.

Isn't racism in the body of Christ a greater moral tragedy?

Wyeth Duncan

Ben Stevenson said...

Wyeth Duncan: "Isn't racism in the body of Christ a greater moral tragedy?"

Racism in the church is a tragedy because it is a failure to keep the second greatest command Jesus gave us.

"And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" -- Matthew 22:39

Racism is a tragedy because it a failure on the part of the church to live lives that bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12).

However, I think abortion has to be a greater tragedy. Racism is not a life or death issue for a million people each year, abortion is. Surely something that ends human life has to be more serious than something that causes suffering in life.

I don't believe that abortion is something that only people outside our churches do.

Russell Moore on Christians having abortions

wwdunc said...


Aren’t the “Christians” in the article you referenced living and thinking more like those in the world than those who are in Christ? They may profess Christianity, but their lives and words, at least as reported in the article, give little evidence that their faith is genuine.

I still am inclined to think that racism within the body of Christ is a greater moral tragedy than abortion. Consider the following:

Racism is an insult against God by whose sovereign design races and ethnic groups exist. Racism is fed by a sinful pride which looks down on others who are not like oneself. James addresses the sin of partiality (James 2:1-9), and he also reminds us that God resists the proud (James 4:6). The believer who harbors racial prejudice in his heart is harboring sin in his heart, because racism is sin. A professing believer who refuses to repent of his sin of racism when it is brought to light may possibly be unregenerate. Can we cling to sin—evidencing no remorse, no regret, no shame—and still call ourselves Christians?

I agree with you that abortion is an evil practice. It is the destruction of human life and, as such, should be outlawed. I look forward to the overturning of Roe v Wade. However, despite the claims of that article you referenced, I believe that abortion is exceedingly rare among the truly regenerate. Racism and racial prejudice, on the other hand, is alive and well within evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity. For that reason, and because it reflects poorly on the name of Christ, I say that racism and racial prejudice in the Church is a greater moral tragedy than abortion.

Wyeth Duncan

Anonymous said...

Dear Brother Lance,

As I wrote brother Thabititi, so I am reminding you, of my alarm in a previous article you wrote about Obama, where I mentioned my real concerns about the unreadiness of our society to effectively deal with the implications which will airse from a potential black presidency.

As you see, it is a struggle to get white Christians to understand the perspective of Blacks and
the prism through which they are compellled to address what not only is important to us, but having been taught by the painful history teacher, we are inclined as a people group, to appear to compromise biblical standards for reasons, that are not readily understood, by naive white people.

And this is the nature of politics. To divide. This is the diaprax. And the Christian community will be fit to be tied, in succefully navigating it's way through the process, without destroying it'self.

The Churches, were divided by politics, why should we think that a political triumph for blacks will heal, restore, or even give opportunity for effective clarification?

I add this, it may serve to further divide, and even obscure in a more devistating way, the black communities understanding of the gospel, and it's charge to keep Christ at the center of their hope!

Who would have thought?

Keep up the good work.

Lionel said...

Oh, my! Oh, my! I think you have opened up the can brother! I will interact with Ben Stevenson in the next day or so

Lionel said...

Pastor Lance,

This is so difficult to read, because in our own little theological bubble we don't want this to be true, but how true it is. Most White Evangelicals think just like White non-believers. They have a "you didn't make it because you were lazy". Why we can trace the soul of a man back 200 years ago. I am not trying to play the blame game here either. But many of our white brothers or sisters will not interact with someone of a lower socioeconomic status than themselves.

It pains me because I look at James and he says clearly "don't show partiality" then in 1 John he says "how can you say you love God". Now God persevered and delivered me from sleeping on the floors of crackhouses and a pontential drop out, to giving year end Finanical information in board rooms to CEO's and CFO's. The key word being God did it.

So I wonder just how much does White evangelicals with an enormous amount of wealth really care? And is this thing called Christianity in the West simply Lip Service and Theolgoical Education with little heart. Since relocating to the suburbs of Dallas I often wonder what about myself. So I am not pointing the finger, I am as Ben says "dealing with the log in my eye also".

I will say to Ben; however, that pagans having abortions are doing what pagans do. For believers to have abortions calls into question their comittment to be like Christ. It would really depend on their state of mind. All Christians sin some greater than others but we continually sin and distrust God. But abortion is a one time act and racism is a lifestyle defined by sin thus insert 1 John "no one who abides in Him keep on sinning".

Or "how can you say you love God who you can't see but hate your brother that you do see". So tell me which is the greater sin Ben? The sin of the elect or the non-elect? Abortion is an evil and offense but racism amongst bretheren is unexplainable.

How about this one "they will know that you are my disciples". He left us here to be His representative to a dying world and we backhand Him by participating in the destruction of His bride the "Church". If you think that racism within the body is not worse it is because you have never saw anyone who looked like you hanging from a tree brutally mutilated with preachers and deacons on the back of pick up trucks smiling in the photo.

I grieve over the death of the unborn, my heart is burdened for them and the potential loss of life and the rejecting of a sovereign God who brought the child to conception, but my heart is grieved more over a man who says he loves my God and hate me because I happen to be a bit more melanin enhaced than him.

Ben Stevenson said...

I don't at all want to diminish how awful racism is.

There are "Christians" who will openly speak hatefully of other people because of their race. A church that accepts murder (lynching) gives good reasons for us to not think of them as true Christians:

"If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" -- 1 John 4:20 (NIV)

But probably more common than overt hatred are people who if asked if they were racist would assure you they were not. They do not hate simply on the basis of skin colour. But they may unthinkingly accept racial stereotypes. They may be insensitive and naive about the problems of racism in society.
This is sin, and it needs to be challenged. It dishonours God that this happens in the church. But I think genuine Christians could not fully resolve these issues and still be genuine disciples.

By saying that I think abortion is a bigger issue, I don't at all want to minimise other issues. But maybe trying to prioritise issues is not very helpful?

Lionel Woods said...

I got you brother Ben, I guess my concern would be that White Evangelicals climb over the highest mountains and go through destructive hurricanes and the dive in the deepest of oceans to fight for the unborn child but few (in my experience) would risk a couple of hours a month (sunday worship service) to discuss the issues of racisms and stereotypes that are birthed out of racism

Pastor Lance said...

good discussion brothers,

and it's necessary one.

ben, I see your point. however I was getting at the fact that many evangelicals claim that the American church should care for the poor (however one defines that) and yet provide few if any real long-term strategies to do so. for example, take a look at the current topics for the upcoming crop of reformed conferences. none deal with the churches mandate to actively care for the poor. to me if we really are going to replace the gov't in caring for the poor then at some point we have to emphasize that in our teaching and the direction of our mission.

dan, the challenge for evangelicals is to vote against their interest in areas that don't involve abortion. in my view and the view of many African-Americans when evangelicals march lock-step with the republican party we see it as their way of protecting and promoting their own interest. it might be difficult to see why black folks vote for their interest when white evangelicals live in a society that works for them on so many levels.
also it may be more helpful to lay out a course for the eventual overturning of roe v. wade. to me if this is such an important issue why has the presumptive republican nominee made it the first order of business should he be elected? Why didn't President Bush make it his first order of business following the election of 2004 when he had a republican congress? this makes many (not just black folk) wonder if republican candidates use the pro-life issue to secure evangelicals in their back pocket and yet have no real intention of seeking to overturn it.

regardless of where we stand on Senator Obama his candidacy has given us yet another opportunity to have a real discussion the nature of God's kingdom, genuine racial healing and partnership along with the limits of politics.


Dan Leman said...

First, I'm a little confused by the argument over whether racism within the church or abortion is the greater evil. Both are horrible, but only one can be ended through the political process. I guess I should have said "Abortion is THE moral tragedy of our time... that can be overcome through the political process." You can outlaw abortion, but you can't outlaw racism in the church.

Secondly, Pastor Lance - I totally agree that the challenge is to get evangelicals to vote against their self interest. I already told you that I'm ready to do it, and so are many in my generation. I also feel your frustration with the Republican party, and I have often wondered if they are taking advantage of us. Yet, when I look back on the Bush presidency, I consider it a limited success on the Roe v Wade front. The Supreme Court is one, maybe 2 votes closer to overturning it. Yet these gains will be lost if either Obama or Hillary (and I'll admit, maybe even McCain) gets elected.

I hate that voting against abortion means that I am also voting against many moral issues that more directly affect you than me. Politics sucks, and I'm learning not to put my trust in it. In the meantime, I'm committed to living and preaching racial reconciliation and love for my brothers.

Pastor Lance said...

good points dan,

perhaps white evangelicals and black bible believing Christians can come together in a coalition that recognizes the limits of politics and yet works for the overturn of roe v. wade along with pursuing justice in other areas of our society.


billy said...

Brother Lance, I must first say that I am a regular reader of your blog and greatly appreciate your work for the kingdom.

I just wanted to add a few thought to this discussion. First, I am both troubled and encouraged by this 'Obama divide'. I'm troubled because black and white Christians are incredibly divided over this issue and in my idealistic little head, I feel we should not be. However I'm encouraged that we are talking about these differences. If Obama had not come along, we might have all just gone on and pretended these differences did not exist until some other future event showed our cracks. I hope that God will be gracious to allow us to seize this opportunity and use it for His glory.

As I read the initial post and the comments, a few things need to be said from my perspective.

I am a white evangelical who cares deeply about the black community as a whole and overall race relations. However I am not a fan of current democratic policies in general. I very humbly submit that the original post showed too close a connection between rejection of democratic policies and neglect of the black community. In my mind, I don't think that all of those policies are particularly good for the black community. I understand that there are many who disagree with me on this (and please know that I very humbly submit this not being a member of the black community myself), but know that from my perspective being hostile to democratic policies does not equal neglecting the black community. We all must be careful in drawing conclusions about people based on their political philosophies.

I personally don't feel either party is particularly interested in helping the progress of race relations or the black community. In the end, I think both democrats and republicans are out to use people for their own personal gain. That is in essence the nature of politics.

I think that white evangelicals definitely need to reconsider their relationship with the republican party (which I think is already beginning to happen to some extent) but in the same vein, I would humbly encourage black evangelicals to reconsider their relationship with the democratic party. We all must take a step back and make sure we are not selling ourselves out to man but to God.

May God grant us the wisdom and discernment we so desperately need to come together and glorify our father.

Graham said...

Pastor Lance, let me be the first to say that we as white Christian Americans were wrong, sinful and wicked to enslave fellow human beings. Further, we are in many ways responsible for race relations as they are today. For this I ask your forgiveness, and offer my repentance.

I heartily agree with you, that we need "a frank talk on why we are where we are, [in order to] consider the possibility of changing the way we approach politics and seek the Lord on impacting this country with His peace, righteousness and justice for the sake of the gospel."

Please allow me to give my perspective. I am 29 years old, white, married and have a 4 year old daughter. For most of our post-college years my wife and I have lived (and currently live) in urban black communities in NYC. My wife did her medical training at a school that had a vast majority black patient population. I taught in a public school in our neighborhood that was entirely non-white (roughly 95% black). We are active members of a church that defies racial descriptions, and that actively seeks to help homeless men and women (the majority of whom are black). My wife gets catcalls that she has never experienced in white neighborhoods, and I get cursed at on the street simply for the color of my skin. I've witnessed 3 shootings, and in our old neighborhood became accustomed to hearing gunfire most nights during the summer. So I'm not sitting in a white suburb hypothesizing about racial reconciliation.

From my experience of living and working in urban black communities (I can't speak to anything out of NYC, since I'm ignorant of how things work elsewhere) I believe that the Christian pursuit of justice must be a call to repentance and conversion, and must hold people responsible for their actions - which is precisely why I began by asking for forgiveness for the sins of my people, and offering my repentance, which I will explain.

I am quite confident, with John Owen that "The greatest mercies and blessings that in this world we are made partakers of, next to them of the gospel and covenant of grace, come to us through this channel and conduit [that is, of just governance]."

Though I do not put my confidence in government to do what only the Spirit does, I believe it can play a powerful role in establishing a just society. In order to do this, it must hold its citizens responsible. It must hold white citizens responsible for establishing and maintaining businesses whose profitability is conditioned on the poor conditions of the lowest workers (virtually all of whom are non-white, and many of whom are non-American). This is structural oppression, and it is entirely appropriate for the state to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right.

It must also hold its black citizens responsible for the nurture of their children, which is the very foundation of virtue and opportunity. In my experience in a failing non-white school, the greatest issue was not lack of resources but children who arrived unprepared for school socially, and academically.

So let me come to my repentance. Believing that parents are responsible, and that the great inequities in our nation arise from disparity of opportunities, I am starting a web business Tumblon to provide simple, reliable, helpful information to parents of children from birth to six.

As an educator and father, I am convinced that the first five years, with a few exceptions, set the course of a child's life. They are the most critical years of development that shape a child's personality, character, expectations and desires. According to the American Library Association, "Knowledge of alphabet letters at entry into kindergarten is a strong predictor of reading ability in 10th grade."

The most powerful way to address the achievement gap (and therefore economic disparities) in our country is not by pouring money on the fire or by playing a blame game, but by enabling parents to fulfill their responsibilities. Then (and only then, I might add) will good teachers and adequate resources make any significant difference.

We will be launching our business in 4 to 6 weeks and need vocal advocates in black communities to spread the word. Our business is, I believe, an attempt to do justice and mercy in a way that holds people responsible, calls for repentance and equips people [parents particularly] to fulfill the responsibility to which we call them.

This, I believe, is the linchpin of social justice, and of good government under Christ.