Thursday, November 6, 2008

Race, Politics, & Christians.

Do you hear that loud ripping sound?  It’s the church of Jesus Christ tearing further apart around politics, race, and specifically:  President Obama.

Here in Chicago, across the city, black conservative Christians (including some who voted against Obama) can be seen weeping, wailing, celebrating, and cherishing the historic step taken this week in the narrative of the United States.  Also, across the city and throughout the suburbs are white Christians in shock or dismay, expressing fear, incredulity and sometimes even anger. 

Nearby, the white leadership of a local Christian school that prides itself on its diversity (and has a student body that probably exceeds 50% non-white) failed to even acknowledge the election results.  “Its not in the history books yet” said one teacher. Black parents are supremely offended. 

So how can white Christians be so insensitive to our black brothers and sisters?  How can black and white Christians have no comprehension about one another in spite of all the Promise Keeper’s Racial Reconciliation stuff? (Or as a black colleague likes to call it “reconciliation blah blah”. )

We live in a country in which, as Mark Noll has documented carefully, there are no two voting blocks closer to one another in personal standards of morality than white evangelicals and black protestants – and there are no two voting blocks further apart.  How can this be?

Even as I write this I am listening to comments about the election, coming from white Christians, that are deplorable.   Love is patient?  Love is kind?  Love doesn’t envy or boast? Love doesn’t insist on it s own way?  Love is not irritable or resentful?  In relation to our black brothers and sisters I have to say that for far too many in the white church this love is not known today.

“The body is one and has many members. . . the [white] eye cannot say to the [black] hand ‘I have no need of you’. . . But God has so composed the body .  .  .  that there may be no division in the body , but that the members have the same care for one another. . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together”  (1 Cor 12.)

For the record, my interest here is the body of Christ not supporting any political candidate or party.  

To my white Christian friends:  yes I’ve read the Huntley Brown Letter.  That doesn’t change the fact that more than 90% of our conservative, bible-believing, Christ serving, spirit-indwelt black brothers and sisters LOVE our new president.  Out of love for Christ and His bride – shouldn’t we want to know why?  Aren’t you curious in the spirit of Christ’s reconciling love?  Or is all our talk about biblical reconciliation dead upon its lack of political expediency? 

There are many good questions to be asked.  There are many dumb questions to be dealt with.  There are many bridges to build.  Citing Huntley Brown, ignoring the presidential  election, remaining indifferent to the history that has been made will only exacerbate our dilemma of a divided body.   

One very interesting observation was made about Obama by a white, conservative ideological opponent of his at Harvard University.  That is, he is capable of discussion in which he presents an opposing view, learns from those he disagrees with, and doesn’t make enemies with those opponents.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be able to do this too?

For those interested please consider the following resources (assuming a preponderance of desire to learn over/against a desire to “battle”) here are some tools:

Book: Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Book: Reconciliation Blues, Ed Gilbreath

Book:  God and Race in American Politics: A Short History, Mark Noll

Blog:  The Reconciliation Blog (www.

Blog: Beauty and Depravity (

Blog: 17 seeds (

Presentation:  Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s CCDA presentation can be ordered.   This lecture that is both professorial and pastoral in nature explores the differing theologies that develop in communities of “suffering” (ala. Marginalized communities) and those of “celebration” (ala. Middle class/mainstream US).  Fascinating with HUGE implications for understanding our own theology more deeply.  (

Discussion/Workshop:  For interaction at a personal or small group level please contact Sunshine Gospel Ministries and ask for Lauren Dillon or Joel Hamernick.  We will work to facilitate a discussion/workshop, or connect you with a facilitator in your area.  

Good discussion topics might include:

·      African American Church History

·      Biblical Reconciliation

·      Black Theology

·      How the Imago Dei and Depravity are evident in other cultures

A few good questions:  (Disclaimer: It will be very difficult for someone who doesn’t know these answers to ask the them of someone with whom they have no relationship.  If you are really interested, go slow, listen long, start where you have relationship credibility, be willing to be vulnerable and to be worthy of someone being vulnerable with you --. Ie. Re-read 1 Cor 13 slowly)

Why would Black Christians who voted for McCain be overwhelmed with joy and emotion when Obama was elected?

Why would someone who is opposed to abortion and gay rights be open to (or excited about) voting for Obama?

What is the personal connection for an African American parent, seeing Obama’s family walk out on that platform with him at the end of the speech in Chicago?

What is the significance and beauty of a black woman being the first lady of the United States (ask this question of a black woman)?

What are the most fun cultural changes that might take place in the white house?!


Steve said...

Great post, Joel

I should get you in on my dialoge with Tonisia (the girl at Cedarville).

I have said in several places that in spite of our (conservative White Evangelicals) profound differences in political ideology, moral philosophy and theology with Barack Obama, we MUST celebrate this accomplishment!

This has such an enormous potential to get white Evangelicals listening.

We're the vanguard, bro. We must be bridge builders now.

You know by now that I'm an unapologetic theological conservative and essentially a political conservative, but living in Chicago all my life has taught me a few things. There is a urban paradigm to my conservatism.

It is people like us on the White end, along with our key brothers and sisters on the Black end, that must take up the mant le of leading a conversation with the larger White Evangelical body.

It's absolutely critical. We may never get another opportunity like this to have some real, raw conversations in the body.

hammerdad said...

I just had lunch with someone non-white at a large evangelical institution. It is absolutely depressing how the conversations around race and politics goes.

He and I had a time of mutual encouragement and shared frustration with how to have "level 1" conversations about race and politics without loosing our audience. It is so critical and yet so hard.

I love the above institution in many ways but find it amazing how decade after decade it remains so entrenched at its core against looking issues around race and privilege in the face.

If I can be of any help in the conversation with Tonisia let me know. I may be headed down there in Jan. They are sending us a group for spring break.

JudyBright said...

I love your blog. What you lack in quantity, you make up for in quality :)

I have found group think to be dominant in most groups I've been a part of, and it's probably a part of human nature. It's frustrating that it's also true in the church as well.

I have found this to be true concerning a number of topics, race included. Maybe people don't know what they themselves believe in their core or why they believe it, and won't even engage other opinions or thoughts. I've determined to be more outspoken regarding race and other topics I'm passionate about just to shake people up a bit. I guess I should be used to the silence and blank stares by now. I've gotten that quite a bit even in Bible study. I bring up a point people don't expect or are uncomfortable with and instead of engaging it it's ignored and there's an uncomfortable transition to the next thought or question. Forgive me if I'm rambling because this hits a nerve with me.

As you probably know, I voted for John McCain. I am in no way ashamed of my vote and am confident I made the best decision. I was actually pretty passionate about the election, but yet didn't hate my Christian brothers who voted differently.

I think what many don't understand it that the conversation has to go past who's right and wrong. Every person on this planet is messed up in many ways, and every Christian reflects the image of God in some manner. We all have different limitations and weaknesses. I thought the Bible told us to put up with one another, maybe bear with a perceived weakness.

Maybe even take it a step further and try to understand a different point of view. Not necessarily agree, but just try to get it. Dare to learn and expand your horizons.

I totally get why an African American who did not vote for Obama would still rejoice in the fact that a black man was elected, as much as a white woman can anyways. When did we lose the ability to see more than one detail in a situation, dare I say nuance? Good gracious.

Not that this is terribly important, I'm also becoming rather bored with some of my Christian brothers and sisters. Who knew their worldview would be totally formed and rigid?

hammerdad said...

Hey Judy, you said "I bring up a point people don't expect or are uncomfortable with and instead of engaging it it's ignored and there's an uncomfortable transition to the next thought or question"

that is unfortunately too true, too often.

The reality is that as you wade into it you run into everything. Just this weekend I ran into a group of 60+ yr old white folks, all republican I am guessing, who asked me 2 questions after hearing me teach for 45 mins. question 1: Does Obama's election mean that churches in the city will do better? question 2: what about Rev Wrights Marxist Theology?

Then at a group of University types I got good, engaged questions, blanks stairs, and one guy who was showing fatigue at being in a church that "wants to get the racial reconciliation thing, and is serious about it in their minds, but don't get it at all".

Any of course there were the old friends who think that me (and especially my wife) might just have lost our minds all together.

I think you just have to take the long view on the discussion, plan on lots of learning and lots of set-backs, and trust to see God at work in our own lives consistently and slowly over time.

I was glad to see your post over at the institute about attending the black church! It's a beautiful thing!

E. Peevie said...

Hi HD,

Great post. As an Obama supporter in the midst of conservative groups (church, Christian school), I often felt beat up.

I love talking politics, but I don't like getting beat up.

I really cannot imagine what it would feel like to be a black American on the day that Obama was elected.

I'm glad we've reached this milestone, and I really hope we can mend some of the breaches between polarized, partisan groups of voters--and especially within the church.

Here's my post about election night:

hammerdad said...


yeah I relate to the idea of wanting to talk, even debate, but without getting beat up.

I have really enjoyed a number of conversations this week with folks around politics and race that didn't become polaraizing or punative. Refreshing stuff.

It is sooooo tough to be able to wrestle with politics in church. But in some ways it seems like what that means is that we can't be fully honest with one another.

I wish we could wrestle openly and directly out of our theology without being fundamentalistic about specific political philosophy. . . .