Thirty years ago during the 90’s, White Evangelical America took some baby steps toward dealing with its racist past. The Promise Keepers movement, founded in 1990, made discussions around racial division central to its mission. Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice published More Than Equals in 1993 about their personal journey to racial healing as a primer on how the church could move toward unity. In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its role in upholding slavery.
We are in a very different place now. As the Washington Post recently reported, the overwhelming support for Trump among White Evangelicals shattered any good will Black Evangelicals had previously extended. Support for Trump revealed the falseness and shallowness of White “repentance” during the decade of the 90’s. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace,” or “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance . . . communion without confession.” Evangelicals often talk about this idea in terms of individual morality, but it applies to the collective level as well.
In their book, Perkins and Rice lay out three movements for true racial healing in the church: admit, submit and commit. But White Americans still resist admitting the extent of our racial atrocities. We were not only complicit in the inhuman system of bondage that ended 150 years ago, but have remained complicit in all that follows: Jim Crow laws, lynching, redlining, white flight, school segregation, police brutality, voter suppression and gutting the social safety net—all of which amount to the continued enforcement of white supremacy in every aspect of American life and society.
We were not only complicit in the inhuman system of bondage that ended 150 years ago, but have remained complicit in all that follows…
We can’t repent for what we won’t acknowledge. And we can’t acknowledge offenses for which we remain ignorant. So we must educate ourselves concerning the depth and breadth of horrors—past and present—that we White Evangelicals have overtly and tacitly supported. And humbly own our responsibility. Only then can true reconciliation begin.