10 Recommended “Black Texts” for White American Evangelicals and Leaders:Toward A More Inclusive American history and experience
I want to begin this short post with the following threefold assertions: (1) Black history is American history; (2) The Black experience is American experience; and (3) Black culture is American culture. My target audience is White American Evangelicals, and White American Evangelical Leaders. American Evangelical Christians need to confront their own ideological tribalism informed by the racist structures of our country and unhealthy theological discourse and imagination, which in turn, have divided Evangelical Christianity and Americans into different ethnic groups, racial categories, ethnic churches, ethnic minorities, etc. What have you? It is from this perspective that Southern Baptist Theologian Russell Moore in his excellent text, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, could write in this manner:
Our Churches must embody the reconciliation of the gospel by doing more “ethnic” ministry, whose very nomenclature assumes that there are “regular” people and “ethnic” people. We’re all ethnic. The “white church doesn’t “do ministry” to hose “ethnic” churches dependent upon it. We assume often without thinking that the church is white, American Protestants doing missionary work for the benefit of everyone else. But the church isn’t white or American; the church is headed by a Middle Eastern Jewish man who never spoke a word of English. We do not need more “ministry” to the poor or racial minorities or immigrant communities. We need to be led by the poor and by racial “minorities” and by immigrant communities (pp. 120-1).
Consequently, this present post is the sequel to my previous essay, “The Desecration of Black Life and The Silence of American Evangelicals.” One of the chief reasons White Evangelical Churches and leaders have been silent on the desecration of black life and are indifferent about the miscarriage of justice toward their black brothers and sisters in the American society is because they have believed a particular version of the American history and the American experience. For some of our White Evangelical brothers and sisters, only one history counts: the white narrative of America; only one experience matters: the white experience in America. These individuals have intentionally ignored the historical narrative of “ethnic Americans” and “ethnic Christian Evangelicals;”nor have they made any considerable effort to learn a different narrative that may complement or even contradict their own version?
Such Evangelical Christians are content about this single story they embraced, and regrettably, they continue to uphold to a monolithic American cultural nationalism and patriotic identity. As Russell Moore advises us in the same text quoted above, “Our task as the people of God is to recognize this culture where we see it, to know where this comes from, and to speak a different story” (p.121). On the other hand, he also adds, “The church must proclaim in its teaching and embody in its practices love and justice for those the outside world would wish to silence or kill…A Christianity that doesn’t prophetically speak for human dignity is a Christianity that has lost anything distinctive to say” (p.115).
The people of God as the church are called to be light and salt of the world, and a city upon the hill. We can not be and do what and who God has called us to be and do if we hold tight to these destructive ideologies– such as white supremacy, white superiority, the triumph of white history in human history, etc.–which are detrimental to the Christian witness in the public sphere and the proclamation of the Gospel of grace to the unsaved and lost. I’m afraid that American Evangelicals have become the very obstacle that hinders the progress of the Gospel in our society and in the world; in the same vein, they face severe interactional hurdles with their black and African American brothers and sisters. White American Evangelicals and Evangelical Leaders must have the courage to first recognize there is a problem, and second, that they have contributed enormously to that problem. Thirdly, they must have the courage to undo the damages they have caused, as the Evangelical Church (in the collective sense) in the twenty-first century seeks to be a prophetic church and a community that affirms “human dignity is about the kingdom of God, and that means that in every place and every culture human dignity is contested… The presence of the weak, the vulnerable, and the dependent is a matter of spiritual warfare” (Moore, pp. 116, 120).
Toward this goal, a promising approach that could bring White Evangelicals closer to appreciate the meaning of all lives toward racial healing and racial justice in their churches and culture is to be sensitive to the collective plight and struggle of the “ethnic minorities,” if I may use this phrase. White Evangelicals must cultivate both a personal and collective attitude that would allow them to sympathize with the weak, the oppressed, and suffering communities in their city. It is vital for the sake of the Gospel that Evangelical Christians be open to and/or become intentional learners about another but complementary narrative of the American saga: the black experience and history of African Americans in America.
The recommended readings below have all been authored by African American writers and thinkers–both male and female. Some of these individuals were/are historians, novelists, social activists, legal experts, cultural critics, etc. These writers chronicle the black experience and the history of African Americans in the United States from an interdisciplinary angle. This list includes both fiction (i.e. “Invisible Man” ) and non-fiction (i.e.”From Slavery to Freedom”). Our goal here is to assist our White Evangelical brothers and sisters to be more acquainted with this version of their own history, which they have neglected or perhaps deemed unimportant to know. As the Spirit of grace continues his work of transformation in their hearts, he will enable Evangelical churches and Evangelical leaders to confront the meaning of black existence and defend the sanctity of black life.
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
- The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
- Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
May the God of Peace, our Creator continue to give us wisdom and orient us toward the path of racial reconciliation, justice, and peace!
May He guide the Evangelical Churches and Evangelical Leaders in America to become more sensitive to the plight of their black and African American brothers and sisters!