May 20, 2014

A Gentle, Friendly Request For Southern Baptist Writers

impactSoong-Chan Rah and I have been writing and speaking about race and evangelicalism trends for decades. That work culminated in a project we started called Gospel and Race because we believe, as the data indicates, that the future of American evangelicalism will be diversely Asian American, Hispanic, and African American in its public expression, if it’s going to have a future at all.

I’m not quite sure how to say this, and I’m not trying to be a offensive or cause trouble, but several of us are wondering if our Southern Baptist friends can stop conflating issues in their own denomination with “evangelicalism” or “the American Church” or “The Church” in general. For example, many Southern Baptist writers (current and former) posting at Religion News Service, major blogging websites, research organizations, conferences, etc. have been writing on the issue of millennials leaving the church. It turns out, that this is not an evangelical problem nor an American church problem, but a white problem in certain circles. Asian American, Hispanic, and African American millennials are growing in number. Black millennials are not leaving the church.

“One of the dangers of being the majority culture is that you become complacent and you don’t listen,” says Derwin Gray Pastor of Transformation Church on this issue. “You think your problems are everyone else’s problem.”

There was a time when evangelicalism had a white male face but, if the data holds, that is the face of American evangelicalism’s past. Many of us have been trying to make the case that there needs to be new leadership faces but few it seems are listening to us.

We tend to look at the church through our own tribal and denomination lenses. It happens. It’s inadvertent. It just is what it is. Granted, there are 16 million Southern Baptists so the tendency to do this is totally understandable but I think it should be known that Asian American, Hispanic, and Black evangelicals (as well as many non-Southern Baptists) find it extremely frustrating when articles are written about trends in evangelicalism which are, in fact, trends only among white evangelicalism and, at times, are limited to particular Southern Baptists contexts–like the whole discussion of New Calvinism. There was no Calvinist resurgence among Presbyterians.

In conclusion, the friendly request is for all of us to not make our denominational problems the problems of “The American Church” or “American Evangelicalism,” and the like. So, could you Southern Baptist writers (currently in, recently left, or critically provoking) not use “evangelicalism” as a synonym for “Southern Baptist”–even when challenging it like we see when we read voices like Rachel Held Evans and Jonathan Merritt. Perhaps, then, in the future a more accurate article title would be something like, “Why Millennials Are Leaving The Predominantly White “X” Denominational/Non-Denominational Churches.” Your problems don’t necessarily reflect trends and issues among Asian American, Hispanic, or Black evangelical churches or other denominations.

Again, I’m not trying to be overly harsh, offensive, critical but I believe that sharpening our categories leads to better diagnosis and provides greater opportunities to be innovative about solutions. I just didn’t know any other way to make this request. I think that speaking more in terms of denominational identity could help all of us anyway.

5 response to “A Gentle, Friendly Request For Southern Baptist Writers”

  1. On a slightly related note, this kind of lack of self-awareness is precisely why the some in the GOP thought Romney could win by going for the low hanging fruit of white evangelicals and were truly shocked when he didn’t. For a long time, white evangelicals have been the most visible stewards of the conservative/restrained government message. If they don’t pass the baton, that message will fade and die.

  2. I think focusing on race is a mistake. The future of Christianity in America are regenerate Christians of all races. There are still regenerate white millennial Christians across the U.S. just as their are regenerate millennial Christians of every race. This message that it’s the white Christians problem and not the other races problem ignores the teaching of Galatians 3:25-29. If we are regenerate Christians then we are the body of Christ and this request to separate the minority races problems from the majority races problems is like trying to separate the hand from the arm in order to avoid having to deal with the issue instead of using the hand to help the arm patch the wound that has been growing for the past few decades.

  3. Yes in joy today to give request to God in many troubes and to be give rest and victory in Jesus name and be give new joy in pleasure of grace to fil us in blessing ,thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden