…and it needs to be something that, instead of ignoring it, or writing it off, should be given due consideration.  I’m going to put a warning out in front of this.  If you are going to jump to a conclusion that this falls into a category of your own preconceived ideas, personal prejudices and predictable political perspectives, and you can simply dismiss it because it doesn’t agree with yours, then you need to stop reading here, and move on to another website.  This discussion will require that you not check your brains at the door, thank you.


“When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.”

Reality check.  From a Christian perspective, “God’s will” is not a subjective matter.  It is determined when the direction of someone’s life becomes affirmed through a wide variety of circumstances, including prayer, advice from those who have experience in discerning it, and above all, objective confirmation of this direction in the scripture.  Simply declaring something to be the will of God doesn’t make it so.  And if most good conservative Christians think that it was God’s will that George Zimmerman shoot Trayvon Martin to death,  then conservative Christianity in America has a huge theological and spiritual problem.

But the second sentence in this paragraph is the one that bothers me more.  That statement is not just an off the cuff reaction to a jury verdict that Ms. Butler didn’t like.  It is a deep-seated expression of mistrust that represents years of exactly the kind of oppression that the verdict in this trial represents.  I don’t know how old Ms. Butler is, but I’ll bet that she, like almost every other African American in this country, is not that far removed from family members who have vivid memories of seeing white Christians who occupied the pews of Protestant churches on Sunday mornings put on white robes, hoods and masks, and terrorize whole communities by burning churches, homes and lynching husbands, fathers and grandfathers.  The civil rights movement is not that far in the past, and while we don’t see that kind of forced segregation or open racism any more, it is there, along with the oppression, in more subtle, less obvious forms.  This trial verdict is a good example of it.  So are some of the pernicious, and unconstitutional laws that states are passing to attempt to keep minority voters away from the polls.  The fact of the matter is that, in the culture in which we live, there are still many ways in which African Americans, and people of other races, can be disenfranchised, and most of us will go on our way without recognizing it, or doing anything about it, while there are others who will accuse them of “playing the race card,” and get angry about attempts to make real change.

“As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history.”

Another reality check.  Most good, conservative, white Christians have acknowledged the role that the Christian churches of this country played in the long history of racism here.  The Southern Baptist Convention has officially apologized for the role that they played in this oppression.  And they took an important, and serious step toward rebuilding the trust that has been lost by their recent election of an African American president.  Some denominations have started, slowly, to include African Americans, and people of other races, in their leadership, though I can’t think of an example of that which is really outstanding.  But, isn’t this something in which Christians should be taking an aggressive, forward moving lead?  Frankly, I don’t see that happening anywhere.

“Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.”

I’ve always taught every history student in every classroom where I have worked, that those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it.  If Christianity has produced the lack of trust, and the kinds of feelings that Ms. Butler is expressing here as being representative of the African American community in this country, then it has gone seriously off track somewhere, and those who have brought this about have completely missed its message.  The fact of the matter is that many of the leaders and churches that constitute conservative, evangelical Christianity have been co-opted by conservative politics, and have mixed in principles and ideology that isn’t Biblical truth.  Everything becomes political, and people are having their faith judged by their political position.  This has deepened the racial divide, and it has shut down efforts aimed at racial reconciliation.  There is something very, very wrong when Christians believe that their political views are approved by God, and he is holding their coattails, cheering them on while they use politics as a test of fellowship.

When white, conservative Christians can extend a hand of welcome to Christians of other races, and be willing to submit to the leadership of those Christians in the churches they attend, indeed, when they can choose to be part of a church where those of their racial, social and economic background are not in the majority, they will be close.  I grew up in a small town in Southern Arizona, in a place where I could walk the mile and a half from my house to school every day without worrying about much of anything, except whether it would be cold, or if it would rain.  My Dad always had a good job, and our family, while certainly not wealthy, never lacked for much of anything.  Everyone I went to school with, except for a few kids with brown skin and hispanic last names, came from the same cultural background that I did.  So I am the first to admit that I have absolutely no context from which to even begin to claim to understand the feelings that must be welling up inside of people for whom this verdict did nothing except dredge up bad memories, lots of bad memories, from the not so distant past.  So the only way I am going to get to the point where I can even discuss it with any kind of understanding is to read authors like Anthea Butler, without presuppositions and prejudice.  I hope I can do at least that much.


About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

5 responses

  1. K Gray says:

    I wonder what it is like to be an African-American Republican in an African-American church. Well, I should ask our former state rep. – an African American Republican elected in a majority-white, historically Democrat district. And a Christian. (He is in a different district now).

    • Lee says:

      Good question. I would guess that it varies from church to church, though the wrapping up of political views in African American churches, which is pretty pervasive, is nevertheless rarely a test of fellowship, at least that I’ve observed. I think of Kirby John Caldwell, the pastor at Windsor Village UMC in Houston, an African American mega-church who was a close friend and supporter of George W. Bush. There were leading members of his congregation, including politicians, who expressed disagreement with him but it never seemed to affect his pastorate, and I think he’s still there, and still a Republican. I can think of a couple of large, African American SBC churches in Houston who had pastors who were known for their conservative politics, especially on social issues like abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but who served long term pastorates, and were largely respected in the African American community at large. Black churches preach politics, but they are almost universally fair in asking those who represent other perspectives to come to the pulpit and present their view. Those who do are generally treated with respect. Even Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have done that.

  2. Colby Evans says:

    Confirmation of what Anthea Butler had to say in her blog, reposted at Religion Dispatches, can be found in the comments of some of the Christians of whom she is speaking in this discussion.

  3. K Gray says:

    Reading Anthea Butler’s piece I really do hear the anger, and I really have seen the questions of many African-Americans: Can my son walk through his father’s racially-mixed neighborhood without being followed? If he is followed and becomes fearful for his safety, what can he do without getting arrested or injured or even tragically killed? I hear a lot of fear and despair.

    (Incidentally, mothers of big tall white teenage sons have some of the same questions).

    But I’m not sure that stereotyping what “most American conservative Christians” think is helpful. In Ms. Butler’s mind that phrase may encompass all of us here, although I’m sure many of you would say “not me, I’m not a religious conservative or a Republican or on the religious right.” But that’s the point of this blogpost – see from the eye of the beholder.. And Ms. Butler may very well see you and me and all kinds of white Christians in mostly-white churches as the problem.

    Do we get to respond yes, there is the racism, over there to the right in our Christian community? Is that a point of agreement, or solidarity? I wonder if Ms. Butler would accept that or would instead shake her head and say you white Christians still do not get it.

  4. Lee says:

    This is the last paragraph from the condensed version of her blog piece that appeared in Religion Dispatches:
    “Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.”

    Not all white conservative Christians are racists, and there are quite a few, a significantly larger and more active group than the impression that is left, who are engaged and involved outside of both the Republican Party and the Religious right, and are independents or Democrats. The thread on SBC Voices on this topic that Colby linked clearly shows some white Christians with a broad understanding of, and sympathy for, the issues and perspectives of African Americans, particularly those who are Christians. The question that Dr. Butler is asking is, “Are you willing to do anything about what you know?” Knowing is not enough. Stepping forward, speaking up, and working to resolve the problem is the scale she is advocating.