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.

Pastor Rick Warren and the ‘the poor do not pay taxes’ bit

Seems Rick, who was almost forced into saying something negative about the Ugandian ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ last year was quick on the draw to ignore the taxes paid by the poor (gas, food, etc…) and enter into the debt-ceiling fray:

HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they’re happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay any taxes.

There are two responses which I would encourage you to read… here and here.

Okay.. so I stretch my imaginary line a bit, but this far? I mean, I’m trying not to get involved in politics (side v side) too much. I urge you too pray for this issue, and for Rick….

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Eisenhower on the Opportunity Cost of Defense Spending

Gen. Eisenhower speaks with soldiers of the 101st Airborne on the eve of D-Day
Gen. Eisenhower speaks with soldiers of the 101st Airborne on the eve of D-Day

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.


Eisenhower on the Opportunity Cost of Defense Spending (Harper’s Magazine).


HT – Will via Facebook

Sirach 3.24-29 – The Heart

Continuing our commentary on Sirach,

(24)  A hard heart will be afflicted at the end, and whoever loves danger will perish by it.

The Hebrew adds to this verse,

But he that loves the good things shall walk in them

(25)  A hard heart will be weighed down by troubles, and the sinner will add sin to sins.

Paul can be found to echo this thought in his Roman letter,

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Romams 2:5-6 NLT)

This passage in Sirach concerns the heart of the man, which may be humble and given to God, or arrogant and given in to sin. Like the previous section of contrast, Sirach brings to us the contrast of the heart and the end of each one. Like Paul several centuries later, Sirach knew that the end of the arrogant heart, the heart which stood before God instead of kneeling, would end with no remedy, but the heart that was humble, will have a good future.

(26)  The arrogant man is not healed by his punishment, for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.

Contrast this with John’s statement in the Apocalypse that New Jerusalem would have ‘healing for the nations’ (Revelation 22.2). We may, however, go as far to point out that the ‘man’ in question is not he ignorant man – unlearned of God – but the man who knows of God and yet refuses to give heed unto Him. Here, Sirach tells us that a remedy for that man’s soul cannot be found.

(27)  The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable, and an attentive ear is the wise man’s desire.

This brings to mind the discourse of Christ with the Apostles using parables. Many times in the Gospels, we find recorded parables, but only for those with ears to hear, and we can somewhat easily connect the Wise Man with Christ who is the Wisdom of God (1st Corinthians 1.24).

(28)  Water extinguishes a blazing fire: and almsgiving atones for sin.

This verse inaugurates what many will assume to be the end of any talk of inspiration of Sirach; however, Jesus Himself considered almsgiving (charity) as method of righteousness (Luke 11.41). Briefly, we see Daniel counseling the King of Babylon (Dan. 4.27) to consider mercy to the poor as a means of cleansing iniquities.  The Psalmist (Psalms 41.1-2) tells us that those that consider the poor will be delivered by God in their time of troubles while our Lord in several places speaks of the evils of not being charitable. The most prominent example is that of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) who if we will read we see not a condemnation based on religious reasons, or one of immorality, but one of passing the beggar by every day, giving the excess of the table to the dogs. The Rich Man was not sent to the grave in torments because of his wealth or his lack of religious righteousness, but because he failed to take care of the poor.

When Christ is speaking about the hypocrisies of the Pharisees, he says,

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.  (Luke 11:39-41 NKJV)

The French theologian Godet says,

Do you think it is enough to wash your hands before eating? There is a surer means. Let some poor man partake of your meats and wines.

And we hear from Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of the Apostle John:

From Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 10,

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good , defer it not, because “alms delivers from death.” [Tobit 4:10, 12:9] Be all of you subject one to another, having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But owe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.

Polycarp quotes another often hidden book, Tobit, directly, but the idea is the same. Charity comes by and produces righteousness. By the waters of baptism is the fires of hell quenched, just as mercy to the poor will bring forgiveness for our trespasses.

(29)  Whoever repays favors gives thought to the future; at the moment of his falling he will find support.

Finally, words from John Chrysostom

Let us then travel along all these ways; for if we give ourselves wholly to these employments, if on them we spend our time, not only shall we wash off our bygone transgressions, but shall gain very great profit for the future. For we shall not allow the devil to assault us with leisure either for slothful living, or for pernicious curiosity, since by these among other means, and in consequence of these, he leads us to foolish questions and hurtful disputations, from seeing us at leisure, and idle, and taking no forethought for excellency of living. But let us block up this approach against him, let us watch, let us be sober, that having in this short time toiled a little, we may obtain eternal goods in endless ages, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ;  (Chrysostom on John 7)

A Question to Ask, or Maybe Not to Ask?

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

(Anonymous) -a quote from A Hole in the Gospel, by Richard Stearn, President of World Vision.

A good friend of mine reminds me that while prayer is good, actions are needed.