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Black Evangelical Shocks Upper West Side

The Southern Baptist Convention is about to reach an important new moment in its history—the election of its first black president. The New York Times tells the story of Rev. Fred Luter, a black pastor from New Orleans who is all but guaranteed to win election to the Convention’s highest seat. This is a major shift for a movement that was entirely dominated by segregationist whites—and possibly the clearest sign of how far we have come since the beginning of the civil rights movement.

This is an extremely encouraging sign, one of which all Americans should be proud. Unfortunately many uninformed Americans, among which can be included a very large group of New York Times readers, have little contact with, knowledge about or respect for evangelicals of any color. “Evangelical = Republican = Racist” is one of the core pillars of the Upper West Side worldview. The election of a black president of the Southern Baptists should change that comfortable certainty, but it probably won’t.

Years ago I attended Billy Graham’s last New York City revival. The crowd was overwhelmingly non-white. In fact, Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. is much more politically, racially, and culturally diverse than liberal Protestantism. Seen in this light, Rev Luter isn’t a token; he is a sign.

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  • Luke Lea

    [How about some stories about Christianity in China? Here’s a good place to start: ]

  • vanderleun

    Too bad that the Episcopalians lost their minds about the same time they lost their souls or they might still be as important.

  • Kris

    On the one hand, it is verboten to criticize racial minorities. On the other, devout Christians are deserving of the utmost ridicule. Oh the dissonance!

  • Donald Miller

    It seems that the only segment of our society that continues to concentrate on race are those liberal, progressive members of the Democrat party who still feel guilty for the sin of slavery (which they had absolutely nothing to do with). These are the people who call Southerners “Crackers”, “Rednecks”, and “Hillbillies”! They refer to all of the States between New York and California as “Fly-over-country” and mock anyone who doesn’t have a degree from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Berkley or Stanford. The main problem confronting this group, as I see it, is that they are in the minority and Mainstream America doesn’t really care what “They” think or feel anymore! These egotistical elitists have been revealed for who they are by the alternative media. The America people are finally waking up to the real dangers of socialism, fascism, and Marxism. Could it be that the real colorblind citizens of America are the Conservatives, Not the Progressives?

  • Lorenz Gude

    About a year ago I was taking the shuttle bus from Atlanta to Athens Georgia when i spied a huger IBM blue sign set perhaps a mile back from the highway. I read simply “Jesus”. The driver to my left was Black and playing the Atlanta Christian radio station. As a New Yorker who now lives in Dawkins secular Australia I had to smile at the supreme irony of it all. As much as I disagree with Obama I am still glad that America could elect a Black president. I think the possible election of Rev Luter demonstrates that the change is less superficial than I thought.

  • JC

    Just a mild rant about Christianity..

    Few people realise the progress that Christianity is making throughout the world, and in places how Islam and Christianity are working with each other.

    Here in NZ in 2006 a Muslim at St Mary’s College, an all girl Catholic school was elected Head Girl, and in 2010 a Muslim was elected Head Boy at De La Salle College, a Catholic institution.

    Meanwhile Sth Korea is providing the world with the most Christian missionaries after the US, and China with its 100 million Christians will move within a few decades to the most prolific Christian mission in the world.

    A few years ago I mentioned with surprise how Christianity was making powerful inroads in Sth Africa.. with pursed lips she told me that if I attended church I would know these dirty little secrets 🙂

    Sth America.. that most Catholic of regions, is steadily going Protestant evangelical.

    Basically, Christianity and in some places in alliance with Islam is on the march far from the Capitals of Europe.. to the point where the next Catholic Pope may well be African, or as a holding pattern.. Afro-American.. so I see the election of a Black to the Southern Baptist Convention as a sort of helpless acknowledgement of the reality of today’s Christianity.

    The Africans are currently producing the martyrs and thus eventually the sword of 3rd world Christianity but if Spengler is right, it will be the Chinese who will put it to (European) music and opera.. and I guess the Sth Americans will roll up the North.

    This blog has often pointed to problems with China’s advance in the world and I agree with some of that thinking.. but adversity in China will simply strengthen Christianity and eventually move it forward, and the West remains mulishly unaware of the Reconquista that will eventually overtake it.


  • JC

    “A few years ago I mentioned with surprise how Christianity was making powerful inroads in Sth Africa..

    Oops, that should read:

    “but the mother in law” with pursed lips she told me that if I attended church I would know these dirty little secrets 🙂


  • DaveP.

    Episcopalians? Aren’t they those guys who run the social clubs that only open when everyone else’s in church?

  • Moneyrunner

    Liberal Protestantism isn’t a religion, it’s a fashion statement.

  • David Pittelli

    “This is a major shift for a movement that was entirely dominated by segregationist whites—and possibly the clearest sign of how far we have come since the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

    Actually, while there were certainly many Southern Baptist ministers who favored segregation, they did not “entirely dominate” the church even fairly early in the Civil Rights area. In fact, in 1956 the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly voted in support of desegregation, stating:

    “We recognize the fact that this Supreme Court decision is in harmony with the constitutional guarantee of equal freedom to all citizens and with the Christian principles of equal justice and love for all men.”

  • Steve

    “vanderleun says:
    June 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Too bad that the Episcopalians lost their minds about the same time they lost their souls”

    You think there might be a connection?

  • p-dawg

    How about electing someone who actually follows the Scripture? Nah, that’s asking too much.

  • Patrick Carroll

    Mr Luther, like Clarence Thomas, Allen West, Thomas Sowell, Herman Cain, etc., is obviously not authentically black.

  • Darkwater

    Look at the rise of the Evangelical movement in the Hispanic community, both here & abroad. Foreign sources (e.g., Anglican bishops in Uganda & Malaysia) are consecrating missionaries to minister to the US. Establishment denominations (Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists) are losing members hand over fist.

    It’s all part of the trend.

  • Charles Tips

    I’m not sure you’ve got it right, Mr Mead, and I’d invite clarification from others. For example, the lesson I got drilled into me by my Mississippi Southern Baptist mother was that God made each and every one of us, and He doesn’t play favorites. Her entire (large) family were non-racist by any standard.

    My understanding is that it was almost a congregation-by-congregation phenomenon. William Jennings Bryan, after all, was the leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party which had a foundation on Southern Evangelicals. I know from limited reading on the topic that many congregations, particularly Methodist and Baptist, throughout the South favored racial equality, some radically so. Others, when the occasional itinerant preacher would come through promoting racial harmony, did not receive the message so well.

  • bflat879

    He should be ashamed of himself, he doesn’t fit the profile.

  • Eric Blair

    Sorry Gerard, Episcopalians lost their souls in the 16th century.

  • Stella Baskomb

    “the Upper West Side worldview”

    Oh, I don’t know. I think we and the upper-West-siders each follow God.

    They in their way, we in His.

  • jim

    People on the UWS aren’t informed enough to know or care who the leader of the SBC is. And if they did, it wouldn’t change their attitudes.

    All that matters is that Republicans are, like, mean and stuff.

  • Ferd

    That’s because those UWS shut-ins can’t get past the prejudices of their tiny .01% monoculture. But then again, they do tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat. So it makes sense.

  • Talking Mouse

    God be praised!

  • Mark J

    I remember singing the childhood song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the word. Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world” in my Baptist church growing up way back in the 1950’s.

    Perhaps the wording is a bit non-politically correct, but the sentiment reveals a truth about fundamentalistis that libs have no idea of.

  • Deoxy

    One the interesting little side-points I saw after the whole “Julia” fiasco was pointing out that Julia likely said all the right things about race but almost interacted in any meaningful way with non-white people.

    The counter example in that particular post was some other generic white woman (so many names used in all of those type posts – don’t remember which one) who clearly did NOT say all the right stuff about race (she even used the N-word sometimes! THE HORROR!!!!)… but actually lived with, interacted with, and even dated people of every racial group.

    Funny how that works, eh?

  • Thomas Hazlewood

    Oh, I don’t know… Maybe if he were a homosexual AND black, that might make it significant…in New York

  • Ritchie The Riveter

    The church experience of the denizens of the Upper West Side, I’d wager, is predominantly with hierarchically-organized denominations … not evangelical congregations who believe, support and fiercely defend the autonomy of the local church, and hold fast to the doctrine of “the priesthood of the believer”, which diminishes the ability of church leadership to dominate the laity, by placing primary responsibility and authority for interpreting Scripture and communicating with God upon the individual believer.

    The UWS experience in this case, leads them to believe that any assertive social or political action coming from the evangelical community is a move to impose theocracy by a few at the top, because they think that evangelicals are hierarchically organized like the churches they are familiar with.

    What they don’t understand that those leading such actions, were they actually to try to institute a theocracy, would be quickly slapped down by many of their fellow evangelicals for doing so, for that would be seen as a direct threat to both the personal and the congregational autonomy they hold fast to.

    There is also another dynamic at play here … the Progressive equation of an active belief in a spiritual worldview with superstition and ignorance, that has even infiltrated some churches to the point that active practice is reduced to the status of a hobby.

    Of course, the irony is that those who hold to that equation are actually exercising more blind faith … faith in the omniscience of a being whose history is rife with error and mendacity … than even the most fervent evangelical exercises in their Triune God …

    … faith in their own ability to accurately and completely perceive the universe; a gross violation of Callahan’s Principle of Leadership …

    … a man’s got to know his limitations.

  • Gorton

    As a veteran of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s I must disagree with you about the Southern Baptist Church: “a movement that was entirely dominated by segregationist whites”. That was definitely not my experience, nor it seems the experience of Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, all of whom are Southern Baptists.

    There is no doubt that at the local level and in some leadership positions the church was “racist”. However, it is a fact that the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a pro-integration resolution in 1954 in response to Brown vs Board of Education. Perhaps reading “A Stone of Hope” by scholar David L. Chappell would be helpful in fleshing out what is becoming a stultifying narrative of racism in the Southern Baptists as well as in the White South.

  • Kris

    Mark@22: “Jesus loves the little children”

    Especially in a fine Bercy sauce.

    Thangyew, I’ll be here all evening.

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