The Evangelical Disenfranchisement of the Black Church
I’ve felt of smörgåsbord of emotions since the election. Disappointment. Pain. Uncertainty. Hope. Anger. As I tried to process everything that happened, I spent a lot of time in reflection over the issues, over what my reaction should be and how to handle the election of a man who has explicitly practiced racial discrimination against people who look like me (and refused to apologize for it). But more importantly, I’ve attempted to reconcile people like Mike Pence. You see, Mike Pence is what some of my white brothers and sisters in Christ would call a good, Christian (white) leader.
Unfortunately, for people like myself, these good, Christian (white) leaders decided to embark on a multi-year campaign to disenfranchise black voters. In places like Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina, good, Christian (white) leaders decided that they could influence the outcome of this and future elections by passing voter id laws that would disproportionately and negatively affect black voters. Stranger still, these good, Christian (white) leaders then decided to strategically close places where voters could obtain the proper identification necessary to be eligible to vote (hi, Alabama!). Again, this disproportionately affected black voters. How do we know a lot of this? Well, our good, Christian (white) leaders got a little sloppy in North Carolina and decided to specifically target black Christians with, as the 4th US Court of Appeals described, “surgical precision.”
This, over everything, is the story of the election for me. I can reconcile Trump. I can reconcile some of the reasons you’d vote for Trump. I can even say I’m down with Trump wanting to invest in infrastructure. I cannot reconcile ostensibly Christian leaders disenfranchising their own partners in faith because there is a high probability that they have a different idea on who should hold political office. I cannot come to grips with the reality that white Christians intentionally attempted to disenfranchise black Christians. I cannot come to grips with the idea that white Christians stood idly by while black Christians brought it up. Did it work? Who cares.
This beyond everything has been my experience with white/evangelical/conservative Christianity as an institution: it is an institution that vigorously asserts its support of equality until it is time to act on those assertions. It’s my experience because it is the reality of conservative Christianity’s history. The enabling of slavery. The enabling of lynching. The enabling of Jim Crow. The overzealous penalties of the war on drugs. For white evangelical Christianity, there has always some justification for waiting until the next time to actually stand up to racism. Whether it be “slaves obey your masters” or abortion, there has always been an excuse by the white church to punt on elevating the rights of people of color. Yes, I’m calling abortion an excuse because it has consistently been used as an excuse to assert the staying power of white nationalism in this country. When given a choice between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, you chose the candidate who violated the Fair Housing Act and denied institutional racism. The exit polls of the primaries reflect this.
By allowing the votes of black Christians to be suppressed, you have implied their rights matter less than your dream of forcing policy on people who will likely just ignore it. And what’s more damaging to me is that because you have demonstrated their secular rights and opinions don’t matter, you are implying the voice of black Christians — my voice — in the church doesn’t matter. And for this offense, I have to start my long painful road to forgiveness.