Monday, November 01, 2004

Black Identity and the Cause of Christ

My friend Marla Helseth has written a thoughtful article for this blog on "Black Identity and the Cause of Christ," dealing with the African American community and the current political season. I encourage you to read and consider it.

Black Identity and the Cause of Christ
by Marla Helseth

In a recent article, conservative black commentator Star Parker makes a profound statement about black voters. She says that even though religion plays a very significant role in the lives of the black community—more so than whites—“the interesting reality over recent years has been that blacks have not taken their faith with them into the voting booth, as do whites.” In other words, the convictions that define blacks as Christians are central to their lives in general, but are apparently set aside when choosing between political candidates. The result has been a nearly unbroken allegiance by blacks to the Democratic Party for the last 50 years. The fact that much of the black community professes to be Christian and yet continues to vote for a political party that increasingly supports unbiblical practices such as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research, starkly reveals the black community’s inherent disconnect between faith and partisanship, and betrays a certain hypocrisy in their worldview.

One explanation for this disconnect can be found in the influential power of family tradition. At times, without having examined the facts of the political issues at hand, blacks will admit they’re voting Democrat because it is how their family has always voted. Fear of breaking from the family party and an over-confidence that “family knows best” keeps many black Christians from giving the issues and the political candidates the thoughtful, biblical analysis required to make a decision informed by both faith and reason. When we make decisions without first aligning them to biblical truth, we are acting no different than the non-Christian world, and in that sense we are not doing our best to honor and glorify God.

The second explanation for this disparity between the black community’s faith and their political practice is more controversial, but in my opinion, it gets to the crux of the issue. Many blacks do not allow their Christian faith to influence their voting practices because the primary way they view themselves is not as Christians first, but as black people first. Their race, or “blackness,” defines who they are, rather than the Bible. Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hints at this by stating, “…the 50-year black allegiance to the Democrat party has fostered a vague perception that to vote Republican renders a black voter ‘inauthentic.’ Voting Democrat is…less than an expression of support for a particular candidate than it is a matter of racial validation and solidarity.” Consequently, instead of looking to political leaders whose positions adhere most closely to Scripture, a candidate is chosen based on what he will do to advance the “cause” of African-Americans. Some black Christians will support a candidate not because he will work to end the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion, but because he will create wealth opportunities for minority businesses. Other candidates are very clear that they endorse the creation and destruction of embryonic stem cells, yet they get a large portion of the black Christian vote because they promise to disperse greater funding to black colleges. For the Christian, both of these instances are examples of placing priorities in the wrong order.

Once we profess faith in Jesus Christ, all that we were before we believed becomes secondary, and that includes our ethnicity. If you are a Jew, you are no longer a Jew. If you are a Greek, you are no longer a Greek. If you are an African-American, or even if you are male or female—you are no longer defined by these outward things. The apostle Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews and had every reason to put confidence in the flesh. Yet he counted it all rubbish once he glimpsed the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:4-8). The black Christian should no longer see themselves as black first. The decisions we make, or the causes we support, should not be based solely on how best to advance our own ethnic group. But how we expend our lives as Christians should rest instead on what will advance the cause of Christ and His kingdom for all people. And we cannot be hypocrites by lending our support to political candidates that promote causes which only benefit our particular race of people while closing our eyes to the unbiblical, evil practices those same candidates endorse. We must be discerning and let our vote count toward the man or woman who (albeit imperfectly) honors God and the truth of Scripture with their political platform as much as possible. As Christians, whatever race we are and whatever culture we are in, is secondary to what Scripture says of us. Now we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). Rather than voting to remain loyal to one’s race or party, vote in such a way that will reflect the excellency of biblical truth as much as possible.