The Black Church in Trump’s America: Refuge and Resistance

Rev. Callahan baptizing a congregant at St. Paul's Baptist Church

In the weeks since November 8th, I have repeatedly recalled the words from the Appendix to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) in which he affirms that there is “no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”

Recognizing that a majority of Christians—mainline Protestant, Catholic, and especially evangelical—cast their ballots for a president whose rhetoric, conduct, history, and platform exemplify bigotry undermined any sense that the faith that they practice and the God they worship bear any resemblance to mine. Indeed, the candidate they backed with a fervor exceeding their excitement about the born-again George W. Bush, represents not only racism and sexism, but also a repudiation of decency and the very values they have brandished in the faces of both Democrats and other Republicans for decades. 

As committed as I am to my own faith as a Christian and as much as I love Jesus Christ and the gospel, I’ve had many moments during which I questioned both publicly and privately whether any redeeming value could be found in the American Christian experiment.

If Christians en masse could validate that guy in 2016, then the bankruptcy of the American church as a moral and social institution has been determined. But then I remembered that my own ancestors developed both a strategy and an institution for rejecting the very hypocrisy I was decrying in American Christianity: the Black Church.

While I hold no illusions that the Black Church (or even any individual black churches) represents a progressive social and moral agenda perfectly, I do believe that a spiritual and theological precedent exists in our tradition that could resource opposition to the theology that buttresses the white supremacy and misogyny on display. And I am comforted in the knowledge that the vast majority of Black Christians said no in the voting booth.

To realize this hopeful opposition, the Black Church will have to stand firm in the tradition of resistance bequeathed to us from the ancestors. At its most basic level this will require being much more discerning about incorporating theological and social analyses that white evangelicals market to Black churches. How detrimental and dangerous for us in the African American community to get our theology from people and institutions that were designed and pioneered with our oppression in mind. We would do well to remember that the authors and institutions that were on the wrong side of history when it came to our civil rights from slavery through Jim Crow were the ones that produced the religious right. 

Resistance will also require us to interrogate and renounce our own tendencies to espouse practices of Islamophobia, patriarchy, and homophobia in our congregations and denominations. No longer will a generalized “social justice” agenda suffice. We will have to make explicit our stand for inclusion and justice through our own internal practices as well as our social and political alliances.

On election day, my heart despaired but today I am more determined than ever as a Christian pastor and an American citizen to demonstrate that I am standing firm in the faith, but not in that faith.