American Evangelicals in Black and White

Here's a fun game for you: do the google image search on this string of characters:

baptist church black
You will see a matrix of images that might be from the black-church scene in The Blues Brothers (if, like myself, you are so clueless about African-Americans that this is the only time you've seen such a church).

They are clearly churches with black congregations. Most of the pictures are interiors, and you can see the congregation.

The vast majority of material on the Internet that feeds google's AI clearly takes "black church" to function as a separate term, meaning an African American congregation. Clear enough! Great!

Then try:

baptist church white
I got a matrix of mostly-exterior shots, since "church" was the noun; almost no pictures of the possibly-white congregation. Most of the pictures were because of proper names: White Rock Baptist Church, or the White Oak Baptist Church, or the Mabel White Baptist Church. "White" is not used as a modifier.

A recent article in the Atlantic about Southern Baptists, "White Christmas, Black Christmas" noted that "While the number of multiracial congregations has increased since the 1990s, 86 percent of congregations, representing eight in 10 attendees, remain overwhelmingly monoracial."

It's a lovely demonstration of the notion of "normality". There are clearly White Baptist Churches as well as Black Baptist Churches, but nobody calls them "White Baptist Churches" (much, on the Net) or I wouldn't be getting the "Mabel White Church" in my search. The white ones are just normal churches. The "abnormal" ones, with the abnormal people in the congregation, are the only ones that need an adjective explaining their abnormality.

This issue may have been given its sharpest quote by Simone du Beauvoir when discussing not racism, but sexism: "There are two kinds of people: human beings and women. When women assert themselves to be human beings, they're accused of acting like men."

The principle is the same. There's no need for the term "White Baptist Church", any more than for the "Human Being Baptist Church".

Hope you enjoyed the game! It's time for the question that pops out for any sane person who knows what Christianity is supposed to stand for and does not know much about the American South:

Segregated CHURCHES? Are you freaking kidding me? How COULD you?

Am I unfair to pick on churches, especially the Southern Baptists, for not integrating, back when schools were being forcibly integrated, with buses if necessary? After all, the neighbourhoods that were not forced to integrate - the ones in the North - didn't. Just about all American neighbourhoods and schools remain segregated, north and south, half a century after integration was supposedly the coming thing. Why pick on churches?

Oh, yes, it's fair to pick on the churches. It's a question of standing up to your own supposedly higher moral standards. Christianity is all about the poor. The sick, the lame, the orphans. The stranger at your door. What a Christian does to the least of his fellows, he does to The Christ.

What an opportunity to evangelize it would have offered to seek new congregants from the African-American community!

Black Americans should be an easy win for The Church, after all: they have way higher odds of being jobless; of being poor even if employed. As conservatives never tire of pointing out, so many black mothers are single and struggling. A church can be a huge asset to such a person, providing social support, emergency babysitting, a good environment for kids, and so on.

I know people who found the church during a hard time for them, and stayed for life. So the Southern Baptist Churches should all commonly have black members if the these allegedly non-racist whites had spent the last 50 years reaching out to those suffering in their community, as Jesus commanded, they would have certainly found a far higher percentage of African-Americans that needed their help.

That is all just to point out how obvious it would be in any other context for this to be only one church. Indeed, there is only a "Southern Baptist Convention" because of a break with the "American Baptist Convention" on the issue of slavery. One might imagine the whole notion of a separate Southern group in the 21st century would surely be wrong, that they would have started efforts to re-unite with American Baptists after the 1960s, when civil rights became a widely-suported issue in which many Christian churches took the lead.

Why they remain separate is the main topic of Atlantic's "White Christmas, Black Christmas" article mentioned above: there are wider differences between those white and black Baptist church congregations than any in America. The white Baptists have the lowest level of belief (33%) among any whites, that black men are treated worse by the police; the black Baptists, the highest in America (82%).

That, for me, is the whole story. I suspect that the black Baptists would not be unwelcoming to white faces in their congregation; it's the other side that are nervous about black faces. I just googled now to check whether the infamous Roy Moore is specifically a Baptist. (Yes.) I found a letter to the L.A. Times, just hours old (November 19, 2017) Roy Moore has nothing to worry about:

After I turned 15, the preacher invited ministers from the "black churches" in the neighborhood to sit with him up there on the pulpit while he delivered a sermon on racial tolerance one Sunday. Shortly thereafter, the deacons held court in the church's basement and, with the preacher and his wife and children nearby, he was fired by the congregation.

I'm just going to say it: American evangelicals vote racist. You couldn't say that with certainty before Trump, because there were no more-openly racist Republican contenders for them to prefer over those still merely dog-whistling. Doonesbury from 1985 But Trump polled better among evangelicals in January 2016 better than Cruz and Rubio together(!) This poll came after the Trump speech with "Two Corinthians" in it. It's one thing to pick Trump over Clinton (if you're from that culture and regard her as a criminal monster), but quite another to pick the guy who said "Two Corinthians" over Marco Rubio, who could undoubtedly quote from II Corinthians, and Ted Cruz, who could probably recite it from memory (son of a pastor).

Articles about it just danced around the real issue, for my taste. They went on about minor differences in tone and policy; it was repeated that evangelicals have very strong policy concerns about abortion and gays and tough foreign policy. The problem is, you can't find a hair's-width of daylight between Trump and Cruz or Rubio on any standard Republican talking point; they're all against abortion and want tough foreign policy. The only really distinguishing feature is that Trump came out roaring about The Wall and Mexican rapists, whereas the other two candidates actually were Hispanic, and more moderate on immigration. I am unable to believe that evangelicals who preferred Trump did not mostly care about his views on race.

In the end, evangelicals gave Trump 81% of their election votes, compared to GW Bush getting 79%. Not much higher, but Bush was, personally, an evangelical; they actually liked Mr. Two Corinthians (and Three Wives) better than one of their own. Those sad about Mr. Trump's win could take some comfort that the tissue of sanctimony religious conservatives had always wrapped about them was surely proven false. They could care less about all of Mr. Trump's sexual bragging, his business frauds, his well-documented affairs that broke up the marriages. All those moral absolutes abruptly became relatively small compared to the imperative to keep out those Strangers.

My phrase "vote racist" was carefully chosen, because "vote" about a group is an inherently statistical term. Certainly, not every Southern Baptist or other evangelical is racist. But the statistics are damning. The really classic litmus test for racism is the old challenge, "Would you want your daughter to marry one?" When it gets down to that, you can also get statistics: Christianity Today quotes a Pew survey that shows while opposition to "miscegenation" has dropped from 75% of whites in 1968 to 7% in 2011 overall, that number is 16% among white evangelicals -more than double.

It was touching that the white and black pastors of the two adjacent Southern Baptist Churches in Macon, GA, were trying to get their congregations to enjoy a few social events together. But when you consider that having white and black ham radio clubs in Macon would be a national scandal, the very existence of monoracial churches, a half-century after "integration" was agreed to be necessary everywhere else, shows that they have a long way to go.

Evangelical support has been necessary to Republican victories since they chose a divorced Hollywood star over a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher in 1980, when the divorcee implemented Nixon's "Southern Strategy" of dog-whistle racism. But now, they are the core support of the wing of the GOP that frightens a solid majority of even that party. As I write, they remain the last supporters for Roy Moore, who frightened even Trump, the standard-bearer for that wing. That makes them the farthest outlier in the party, and obviously, the country. Their statistical presence at the edge of the policing and miscegenation issues tends to confirm that.

Their belief is that they are closer to God than others; the objective certainty is that they are the furthest large political group from the racial and sexual morals of rest of their country. What can I suggest to white American Evangelical Christians that are bothered by this association? Go to church. Go to a southern evangelical christian church. Except a "black church". If enough of you go, there won't be any more black churches or white ones. Probably, not a lot more of your fellows will go. But you, at least, might just see The Light.

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Text is COPYRIGHT, Roy Brander, 2017. All graphics are available Internet grabs that link to their source, and will be taken down upon request, to "roy.brander" at Google's mail system.