Landmines Galore: Racial Divisions among American Christians

Christians Divided by Race/Politics

Party_affiliation_among_Christians_by_race-ethnicityI’ve mentioned before on this blog that Christian unity crosses my mind a lot these days. Up to this point, my posts have revolved around the human sexuality debate within the United Methodist Church. However, as a political science junkie who majored in political science in college, the upcoming election has also been on my mind. In this election season, one fact is inescapable: American Christians are divided along racial lines. Voting patterns of church-going Christians generally follow racial identity more than faith identity. This chasm is more noticeable when evaluating voting patterns of evangelical and Catholic Christians in the United States.

 

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The Problematic Nature of this Division

To some degree, one expects to find differing views within Christ’s body. The Methodist tradition in particular emphasizes the ways that experience, along with tradition and reason, help us interpret Scripture. Yet I find the degree of division disturbing, especially since it exists along racial lines. Jesus calls upon the church to live in “complete unity” (John 17:23). In God’s eyes, all are one in Christ Jesus, regardless of gender, ethnicity, social status, or any other category (Galatians 3:28). The church should reflect that reality in its life and witness.

Jesus did not tell us how to vote. After all, his ministry took place in an occupied territory within an empire, not a democracy! Therefore, I offer no specific solution as to how to resolve this racial chasm among American Christians. Yet I do offer words of caution to fellow Christians. All of us need to prayerfully consider our own motivations for voting. Specifically, we must always critically evaluate whether our voting decisions result primarily from our culture and ethnicity, rather than heartfelt and biblically-informed Christian conviction.

Stepping on a Landmine—addressing white evangelicals

In my current ministry setting, most of the church members within the congregations I serve are white and evangelical-leaning in theology. The larger communities I serve are predominantly Hispanic, and each church includes some Hispanic members, but both are majority Anglo. Therefore, I’ll be addressing white evangelicals, who generally vote Republican. All Christians should evaluate the blessings and limitations of their culture and ethnicity in their voting patterns, but because of my context, I’ll be speaking to white evangelicals for the rest of this piece.

In many ways, I’m sympathetic to the political and social concerns of white evangelicals. Our culture is over-sexualized, often self-indulgent, excessively indebted, and seems to exalt moral relativism. The “hot-button” issues of abortion, gay marriage, etc. are symptoms of an increasing cultural apathy toward moral values in the public square. I affirm and sympathize with these concerns.

Yet just like any other ethnic group, white evangelicals can fall into intellectual and emotional traps. White evangelicals, just like any other group, often cease to critically evaluate their policy views through the totality of the biblical witness. In doing so, we can unintentionally define ourselves by our partisan or ideological affiliation, rather than our identity as Christ followers, an identity that we share with a diverse group of people all over our nation and world. I could identify a plethora of examples where I see well-meaning white evangelicals prioritize their cultural identity over their gospel identity. For the sake of time and space, I’ll identify just two: (1) immigration, and (2) government policy on “social safety nets.”

Two Landmines–Immigration & Social Safety Nets

With respect to (1), immigration is a complex issue that evades easy solutions. Yet we are a nation of immigrants, and therefore, how we discuss immigration is just as important as our ultimate policy position. Rhetoric and policies that blame a particular ethnic group for our nation’s problems, and seek to expel or prevent particular ethnic groups from living here, run afoul of the inclusive nature of God’s Kingdom. Rev. Dr. David Watson just wrote a succinct and brilliant article about this, and I encourage anyone with questions about the intersection of Christian faith and immigration to read his article.

With respect to (2), the gospel clearly calls Christ followers to live with and for the poor. Biblical examples include Deuteronomy 15:11, Proverbs 14:31, Luke 4:18 and 6:20, and Galatians 2:10. However, the Bible does not instruct modern capitalist governments about how taxpayer funds should be used with respect to the poor. Christians can legitimately disagree about such matters. But how we disagree is important. Do we listen and try to learn from Christians that disagree with us? Do we recognize that many Christians with similar views on matters of faith can have good reasons to disagree about the role of government?

In my personal experience, the answer to the prior two questions is often “No.” In fact, the response I often hear from white evangelicals includes some variation of, “well, they just vote for the party that gives them free stuff.” Such a response exhibits a lack of charity, and a lack of desire to listen to a significant portion of our Christian family. Perhaps more importantly, such a statement relies on false information. While poverty is more pervasive among non-white families than white families, most Hispanic, African American, and Asian families in the US do not live in poverty. To suggest that “selfish” welfare recipients encompass entire ethnic groups, mostly composed of faithful church-going Christians, does nothing to further dialogue between Christians in this nation. Such callous and inaccurate statements only serve to dismiss voices of sincere Christians of other backgrounds.

Conclusion—praying and discerning with an open heart and mind

In sharing these thoughts, I do not intend to dictate how others ought to vote. On matters not essential to faith in Christ, Christians can freely disagree with one another (ex: Romans 14:1-23). Yet the motives and assumptions behind our convictions matter greatly to God. When the most likely predictor of our political allegiance has less to do with our study of Scripture and more to do with our ethnic background, something is wrong. Such divisions do nothing to aid in the proclamation of the gospel. Rather, they hinder gospel proclamation, for such divisions tell the world that we are more influenced by culture than Christ.

As we approach Election Day, I hope and pray that all of us—myself included—pray for the strength to identify and dismantle any and all barriers between ourselves and other Christians. I especially pray for all of us to overcome conscious and unconscious racial and cultural bias, so that we might truly serve the world as a living witness of the oneness of Christ’s body.

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7 Replies to “Landmines Galore: Racial Divisions among American Christians”

    1. That is an interesting take. I’d find it far more compelling if the GOP hadn’t nominated Trump. Trump absolutely rejects decentralization of government and checks/balances, implausibly proposes tax/spending policy that creates more national debt than even Clinton, & began his recent public engagement with birtherism & declaring that Mexican immigrants were rapist & killers (only later adding a caveat that “not all” are).

      My point is not that Clinton doesn’t play identity politics (she most certainly does). Nor did my article intend to suggest that only racists support Trump. But to suggest that Trump doesn’t play identity politics isn’t consistent with what we’ve seen in this campaign, in my opinion. Also, I think statistical data on the persistence of race/ethnicity as a primary predictor of voting tendencies, in my opinion, suggests to me that we do live in an era of identity politics, whatever side of the political side you happen to reside.

      But Betsy, I do sincerely appreciate you commenting with this article. It gave me a lot to think about–& again, other GOP candidates would represent that article’s views than Trump, in my opinion.

  1. I don’t know how useful, if at all, this will be, but I feel the need to give us Libertarian folks some love lol. This graphic shows the basis demographics. though they are changing and becoming more diverse.
    http://prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/110613.Libertarians1.jpg
    The most interesting thing might be that even though it is a small percentage of the population (7-10% by most accounts), there is not a readily apparent religious identity to those who support it. At least religiously, it might be the most diverse representation of Christians.

    1. That is an interesting infographic. Also, I know Gary Johnson is getting measurable traction among some Hispanic voters–though that could simply be a product of “agh, we’re normally Republican but Trump is gross.” Either way, an opportunity for Libertarians to begin to reflect the diversity of our nation–something that has not been accomplished in most Christian denominations.

      1. Politically, the party is still drastically slanted toward Caucasian, but those who are new comers to the part are much more diverse than before. Part of what happens is that the party gets it from both sides. The Democrats label it a conservative group and try to link it with the Tea Party and other similar movements. The Republicans try to link it with Progressive groups and their causes. In the faith spectrum, I regularly get asked from both sides of the isle how can you be a Libertarian and a Christian. This is of course extremely amusing as it is one of the few times that conservative and liberal Christians can agree….Libertarians can’t possibly be Christian lol.

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