A plea for white evangelicals to develop anti-racist theology

Hi Joel,

I have a lot (a broken heart full) of things to say about John MacArthur’s effort, in the midst of so much hurt and pain and violence in the world, to undermine social justice among Christians. As some of our readers know, I’ve been working for several months on a research project about conservative Christian attacks on social justice, but I still didn’t feel quite prepared for the unkindness in his words. The fact that it’s such a logical mess only shows how important it was, at all costs, for MacArthur and his conservative friends to undermine social justice.

See the source imageAbove, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Tower of Babel. How we tell stories like this one–or of Ham, or of Onesimus, and of many others–shapes and reflects how we think about race. This story is often used as evidence that God ordains segregation. 

MacArthur has invoked his concern for black people in his attacks on social justice: he worked alongside, he said, Medgar Evers’ brother, and he worked with black pastors who were victims of violence, and he was close enough to Memphis when Dr. King was murdered to rush to the scene of the violence to mourn right there. And, because he has black friends (and because some black pastors signed on to his attack on social justice), he can say authoritatively that it’s social justice that presents the greatest threat to the gospel today. After seeing black pastors killed, he says:

Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice” is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.

I will likely unpack more of this over time, but today I wanted to share a quotation from John Fea’s new book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

“[White evangelicals and fundamentalists post-Civil War] failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to structural racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did” (108).

It’s easy for white evangelicals to treat their theology–including how they read the Bible–as its consequences are only good. They’re not. If white evangelicals don’t want to be racist, then they have to write a theology that is anti-racist; otherwise, their racist co-religionists will continue to use it for continuing oppression.


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