Keeping Black Christians at Arm’s Length

I am always encouraged by the many black Christians I see and hear about embracing and rejoicing in the truths of Reformed theology. Seemingly in all segments of the church, Reformed theology is finding inroads with black Christians as they seek new depth to their theological understanding and experience. Unfortunately, some of my white Reformed brothers don’t make the embrace easy.

Today some in the white Reformed community continue to seemingly use every opportunity to alienate black Christians and keep them at arms length. They do so with what amounts to cultural elitism. I find it disheartening and shameful. Personally, I don’t embrace Reformed theology because of who does or does not advocate it. I embrace it because I find it consistently biblical and experientially rich. However, I must admit to sympathizing with my black brothers and sisters who are regrettably repelled by what is insensitivity, and even hurtful at times, coming from some Reformed white voices.

“I must admit to sympathizing with my black brothers…”

Recently, for example, we witnessed the dust up from the unfortunate and incendiary remarks by a few Reformed men at a Worship Conference sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. The men on the panel in unison condemned Christian, even Reformed, hip-hop as cowardice, unbiblical, immature, and ungodly. Some of their remarks even came across as vitriolic and venomous. While I don’t think their remarks were meant to be racially aggravating, they should have been aware that to speak of the culture out of which Christian hip-hop and rap arises is to speak of a culture predominantly populated by black artists and advocates. Therefore, to speak so disparagingly and dismissively concerning hip-hop is also to project that disparaging and dismissive tone toward your black brothers and sisters involved and supportive of Christian hip-hop.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to disagree with certain means of worship and communication. I know faithful men and women who dislike Christian hip-hop. That’s cool. However, I do want to implore my white Reformed brothers (as I try to remind myself) to think and consider the implications and potential impact of your words before you speak or write them. For example, one young black brother in our church commented, after watching the panel, that if he had any books by the men on that panel, he would throw those books away. Obviously, this would be an over-reaction and would be wrongly dismissive in reverse. However, we must not underestimate the reaction our actions potentially can garner from others.

Similarly, with the death of Nelson Mandela, some men in the Reformed community have suddenly found it necessary to speak what they believe is “the truth” about Mr. Mandela and to offer what they believe is a more accurate view of him as opposed to the one they believe is proffered by the “liberal media.”  As the world, and many African-Americans celebrate the life and sacrifices of Nelson Mandela, some of my Reformed white brothers insist on pointing out on the day of his death that when Mr. Mandela went to prison, he was a leader in the so-called “terrorist” group, the ANC (African National Congress). Because of this association, some of my Reformed brothers vilify him and his comrades for violently resisting the insidious and evil apartheid regime of South Africa at the time.

Admittedly, before he went to prison, Mr. Mandela became an advocate of violence against a violent and wicked government. However, it should be argued that his violence was a violence that violence produced.  Was he right?  Well, I wonder if my Reformed white brothers would label George Washington and the Continental Congress as terrorists for taking up arms and engaging in what amounted to guerrilla warfare against King George III and the British Empire?  Or what of the violence and terrorism that was slavery in America?

The evil of slavery in the United States was perpetuated, advocated and/or defended by such Reformed heroes as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Robert E. Lee, Robert L. Dabney, James Henry Thornwell, and many others. Because of their association with and/or defense of slavery, shall we label them terrorist sympathizers?  Or what of the violence and terrorism of Jim Crow (our nation’s apartheid complete with bombs, water hoses, dogs, lynchings, etc.) perpetuated and defended by some prominent Reformed churches from Atlanta to Birmingham, from Memphis to Jackson. Are we willing to also label these churches as “terrorist organizations?”

Understand, I am not seeking to bring reproach upon the men and churches mentioned above. I only want to make the point that Mr. Mandela did not have the corner on violence. Therefore, some in Reformed white America should be careful of throwing bricks, because many of their Reformed heroes lived in glass houses.

“I’m not seeking to bring reproach upon the men…”

I have great respect for Nelson Mandela, just as I have for George Whitefield. I respect them as men with clay feet, who gave their lives in service to others, while at the same time holding to and advocating some positions that others could deem terrorism. I would not say that it should define either of their legacies, for they both were more than the pragmatism that drove them at times. You see, the way I rank my heroes is Jesus first – and everyone else lumped in together way behind.

I am openly, and confessionally Reformed. Make no mistake about it. And I won’t reject Reformed theology simply because some of those who hold to reformed theology are insensitive, hypocritical, and even wrong at times.  Their sin does not invalidate biblical truth for me. I pray it doesn’t for you either.

Thankfully, the growth of Reformed theology among African-Americans has not been contingent upon the welcome mat of some white Reformed brothers. God continues to do what he has done, “pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.”  May my brothers and sisters according to the flesh continue to seek and embrace the truth of Reformed theology despite the clay feet and slippery tongues of some of our Reformed white brothers, whom we love, though at times they make it harder than it should be.

Tony Carter
Tony Carter serves as the Lead Pastor of East Point Church. Tony is married to his beloved, Adriane Carter, and their marriage has bore the fruit of five wonderful children. Holler at him on Twitter: @eastpc

C’mon Up!