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…