by Rev. Anthony Trufant
As an African American Christian pastor, I’ve almost lost hope for meaningful partnerships with white Evangelical Christians. There was a time when I was far more hopeful. Over the past twenty years, I have periodically attended Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and Saddleback’s Purpose-Driven Conferences. Another inspirational resource has been the Dallas-based Leadership Network. More recently, I have either attended or streamed Andy Stanley’s Catalyst Conference. All these experiences were helpful in my efforts to grow my congregation, the Emmanuel Baptist Church of Brooklyn. At these conferences, I learned biblical principles and best practices which informed how I have approached my pastoral work with greater intentionality and impact. I also have discovered how to think more creatively and strategically at a time when the footprint of Christianity is shrinking throughout the United States and specifically, the urban Northeast.
While at the conferences, I gained the impression that there were a number of white pastors who genuinely desired to build bridges of goodwill and interracial cooperation in the public square. I was encouraged by heartfelt and insightful comments from white colleagues about how America might be challenged to live up to the ideals of the founding fathers. I was pleased to learn that black and white pastors agreed that issues of drug and human trafficking, political and religious torture of prisoners, insufficient medical treatment for the poor, food insufficiency and substandard housing were unquestionably wrong and should be eradicated.
I have wondered often, over the last 12 years, whether partnerships between white Evangelical Christians and black Christians are tenable. Admittedly, Christians — from the Church’s beginning — have rarely agreed on doctrinal issues and the look of authentic public witness. What has concerned me, however, are white Evangelicals who remain sympathetic to and supportive of organizations that carry racist overtones and undertones like the Ku Klux Klan, the Birther Movement, the Alt-Right and the Heritage Preservation Association. I was puzzled further by the questions raised about the authenticity of President Barak Obama’s Christian credentials. Never did I hear compelling evidence to defend the unfounded claims parroted by so-called Christian patriots.
Admittedly, I was unhappy and stunned by the election of our 45th president. Still, I accepted his win, notwithstanding allegations of election tampering in communities of color and Russian interference — situations which recently have been proven factual. What I found and find problematic is the inconsistency and hypocrisy of white conservative Christians, and some moderates, who have clamored for American presidents to toe the line of personal piety, but have given President Donald Trump wide clearance on crucial areas of Christian character and practice. Thus far, our 45th president has paid only lip service to the vision and values of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Yet, President Trump seems to have received a purgatory pass from white Evangelical pastors who are less than vocal about his egregious and embarrassing behavior, inflammatory tweets and texts, and racist, sexist, dog-whistling rhetoric.
White Evangelicals claim they seek unity for the nation, and as part of the body of Christ — I do as well. But I have no intention of feigning a false sense of harmony and accord. In this time of national crisis, I have learned, painfully and repeatedly, blacks and whites filter and see things from vastly different and often antithetical points of view. Prominent pastors like Rev. Franklin Graham, calling for Christians to pray for the protection of President Trump, is something I deem disingenuous and specious. What about calling for him to repent of his racist, sexist, and isolationist pronouncements and policies? Whatever happened to the baseline Christian belief that all public servants, including President Trump, should seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) – and fellow citizens of the world?
Despite my disappointments and real doubts, I still have hope. Based on personal encounters and past experiences, I believe there are white Evangelicals who will shed a light on conduct contradictory to the Holy Scriptures and the fundamental and founding documents of this great nation. I’m convinced there are Christian ministers who are less interested in the national spotlight and functioning as personal chaplain to a President whose behavior has been unChristian and unbecoming of the President of the United States of America. I believe there must be a hidden stash of Evangelical prophets who refuse to bow down to Baal. I am looking for them and waiting for their call to action. I’m not sure if or when that will happen. But I remain faithful and encouraged because of the cross of Christ. His witness and wonder allow me to still have hope.