Editor’s note: Five powerful and diverse evangelical voices came together in a first-ever “National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics” (Aug. 6, Facebook Live), moderated by Lisa Sharon Harper, to bravely start the conversation Evangelicals need to have in this consequential year for our nation: Charles Robinson from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma works with The Red Road, a non-profit that shares the love of Jesus with native people in a culturally relevant and biblically sound way. Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, is Fuller Seminary’s assistant professor of Integral Mission and Transformational Development in the school of Intercultural Studies and Centro Latino. Rev. Justin Adour is lead pastor of Redeemer East Harlem Church in New York City. Kyle J. Howard is a theologian and trauma-informed soul care provider. Andrea Lucado is a journalist and an author based in Texas. Everyone except Andrea is an Evangelical of color. What follows is Part 3 of our 8-part series based on the National Town Hall.
We heard raw and sometimes painful perspectives from two people of color who were part of the White Evangelical church. I began with Charles and asked him, “As a Choctaw man who follows Jesus on the Red Road, are there parallels that you see between the politics of the White church today and the politics of the White church in the days of the Choctaw removal?”
Charles: My immediate response is, “What is a white church?” Is it a skin color or is it a mindset? I am sure within the African or slave communities, there may have been Black churches but we did not have all these colored churches. It was all white-based. It is the Presbyterians who came in as missionaries into Choctaw nations and were part of our removal. Their mindset at that time was about control, power, and taking over our land, and also saving us evil savages so that we would someday find ourselves in some level of heaven.
Fast forward to today, I think the church whether White, Black, Asian, Native, whatever it might be, still has lots of the same struggles — people want control, they want power, they want to control our cultures still. We take a cultural prayer, for instance, and turn it into a biblical standard. Our way of words might be different. We do not worship like them, so we must be wrong. I think there are a lot of similarities in how it was in 1830 and 2020.
Lisa: *Turning to Kyle, an African American who left the Black church for the Southern Baptist church* “What did you see about the intersection between Evangelicals and politics and the Southern Baptist Movement, that we have to understand as we enter this moment today?
Kyle: For the past 16 years or so, I have been specifically within White Southern Baptist Churches. And even more, I have two degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I have just a few classes shy of finishing an Advanced MDiv in Historical Theology. What was clear to me, on one hand, you had an Evangelical theology of repentance, of turning away from sin, of ownership of sin, and even pursuing restitution when necessary. But then when it came to the actual practical workings, there was no repentance in relation to the Southern Baptist Convention’s history in complexity, and enabling white supremacy by slaving African peoples.
Slave master theologians were still championed and praised on seminary campuses. Anytime I wanted to go to the bookstore, there would be slave masters plastered on the mugs, on t-shirts, and of course the buildings were still named after slave masters. And then of course in classrooms, when the Black church was talked about, it was demeaned and white slave master theology was still exhorted.
As a counselor, who is trauma-informed, I began getting more and more counselees of color who would come and share with me their own experience of racialized trauma, spiritual trauma, and spiritual abuse within Southern Baptist Evangelical churches.
Then finally, being a minority in that space, there often is a kind of dynamic — people wanting to test you to see whether or not you are the kind of minority that can be raised up in the ranks, more or less. The more that I got to see behind the veil in regards to the gears of the Southern Baptist machine and how things moved and operated, the more it became clear to me that the only way in which I could move up, from my perspective, was if I lost some of myself, compromised who I was as well as my ethnic identity. And in doing that I would be compromising who God made me to be and how God made me to serve him. So I decided the best thing for my family was to step out of that relationship with Southern Baptist tradition and churches.
Lisa: The first thing that came to my mind when you said there is no tradition of repentance was, “Well, what about that confession back in 1995?” They actually did confess their sin against people of African descent. But it struck me that it was confession, not necessarily repentance. So, what is the difference there?
Kyle: I think about the passage in Ephesians 4 about removing something that is unrighteous and not just ceasing to do it, but rather putting something righteous in its place. That the thief no longer steals, but let him now work honestly with his hands so that he can give to those in need. Do not just stop stealing, you need to start giving back to people. Generosity is a mark of repentance. Let the liar no longer lie, but let them become a truth-teller.
When the Southern Baptist Convention was literally formed in defense of slavery, repentance does not just simply look like naming your sin, and I think we could still question whether they have truly and genuinely named the level of sin that has happened. The fact is that the entire wealth of the Southern Baptist Convention is built on the bodies of Black Africans, they are now drenched in the wealth of that bondage. Which came with many other things: molestation, pillaging, theft. Repentance would look like not only confessing genuinely, it would also include restitution. If you oppressed Black people, what repentance now should be seeking is to elevate them in positions of leadership and granting power to African Americans to actually be an influence in the denomination.
Just based upon the Word of God, which we all say we would adhere to, it doesn’t meet the baseline requirements of what biblical repentance is. Until the Southern Baptist Convention sees repentance, it just was not the place that I felt in good conscious, a descendant of slaves, that I could continue walking in.
The National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics was convened by Freedom Road LLC in partnership with Evangelicals for Justice, The Voices Project, Global Immersion Project and Evangelicals for Social Action. You can watch the inaugural Town Hall on Facebook. Follow Freedom Road on Facebook and Instagram @FreedomRoadUs.