Critical Podium Dewanand Christianity
One faith, one Bible -- but two races February 14, 2005 BY CATHLEEN FALSANI
Sacrificer CATHLEEN FALSANI
Sacrifice code wfor0381
Sacrifice date February 14, 2005
One faith, one Bible -- but two races
February 14, 2005
BY CATHLEEN FALSANI Religion Reporter Advertisement
For evangelical Christians in Chicago, the most daunting task ahead of
them might well be bridging the racial divide in their midst.
Despite sharing the same theological beliefs about the Bible, Jesus Christ
and evangelism, "Blacks avoid the 'evangelical' term," said
Michael Emerson, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame
and co-author of the book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the
Problem of Race in America.
"Historically, white evangelicals have been on the side of opposing
racial change, supporting the status quo," Emerson said. "So,
sociologically and socially, there are huge chasms between the two groups.
For Christian blacks, the term 'evangelical' itself implies 'white.' "
Evangelicals: Beyond the Label
Cathleen Falsani examines who evangelicals are, where they came from,
and how widespread their clout in society is today.
. Part 1: The Image Problem
. Part 2: Jesus Clout
. Part 3: Divided by Faith
The Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side,
is among a minority of African-American Protestants who call themselves
"evangelicals." Meeks didn't always use the term evangelical
to describe himself. And though he believes it accurately describes him
theologically, he said he understands why other black Christians find
"Evangelical seems to mean Republican, it seems to mean white, it
seems to mean anti-social programs," Meeks said. "If 'evangelical'
means that the Scriptures are supreme, that Jesus is Lord and savior and
that the world is supposed to somehow be converted to the Christian world
and way of life, then that's what I believe. But when you start looking
at where we are socially, then you've got a whole other bag of tricks.
"Our church's social agenda and the social agenda of the white evangelical
church is totally different," he said. "It seems as if the flaw
in the white evangelical church is that it will fight tooth and nail to
protect an unborn child in the womb, but won't lift a finger to assist
a child once it's been born.
"Where is the [white] evangelical church on issues outside of abortion
and outside of homosexuality?"
Meeks and seven other pastors of some of the largest evangelical Christian
churches in the Chicago area -- a group known informally as "the
Gatekeepers" -- met in December to get to know one another. The pastors
-- four white, three black and one Hispanic -- also wanted to strategize
about doing something together to make a positive impact on Chicago and
put a more compassionate public face on evangelicalism.
While Meeks said he has high hopes for what the Gatekeepers group might
accomplish, the results of their first meeting illustrate the obstacles
white and black evangelicals face.
"There's a fundamental difference between blacks and whites,"
Meeks said. "We would leave a meeting like that . . . and a black
person would say, 'Let's do something.' White people leave a meeting saying,
'Let's plan something.' That's what they want to do. White people want
to plan something."
That difference goes beyond style, Emerson said.
"I saw this perfectly illustrated at . . . a big planning meeting
in Dallas," Emerson said. "You had all kinds of well-known black
and white pastors . . . And what happened was it just divided right down
the middle -- black and white -- with white guys saying, 'We need more
time, we need to plan, we can't do this right away,' and the blacks saying,
'When are we going to stop talking about stuff and do it?'
"This is the continual frustration. Whites, even when they're well-meaning,
still seem to have control. So it breaks down because it's not done the
way they want."
Meeks said he worries that the Gatekeepers group will get stuck in the
planning stage because its members won't be able to decide which social
ill they should try to address.
"Most [white] evangelicals think the reason the African-American
people are in the condition they're in is because it's their own fault,
that somehow they've not applied themselves, that they're lethargic about
life, they want a handout, they don't want to work as hard as white people
do," Meeks said. "And so for us to throw money at kid care and
free lunch or social programs is really an enabling crutch. Blacks look
at it as if ... everything has its roots in slavery."
The differences between black and white evangelicals in the way they
view themselves and each other amounts to a "huge chasm," Emerson
"When I say 'whites opposing racial justice and whites opposing
overcoming poverty,' they don't see it that way, of course," Emerson
said. "The religious tools that [white] evangelicals use are completely
individualistic. There are no social problems, there are only problems
with individuals. There are no social problems, so you don't address those
"But, for black evangelicals, there are, and that's the fundamental
difference. It can be seen as a theological difference as well."
Black evangelicals are sometimes more apt to take action than their white
counterparts because of spiritual reasons, said the Rev. John Eckhardt,
who is one of the Gatekeepers and pastor of Crusader Ministries in Chicago.
"In our ministry, we generally believe in inspiration. We act quickly
on things we feel God is doing," said Eckhardt, whose church draws
about 5,000 worshippers, most of them African-American, each weekend.
"We trust the Holy Spirit to give us things divinely and supernaturally.
. . .. [White evangelicals] may be more rational and discuss it more.
That's the frustration I have."
For years, Meeks and the Rev. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community
Church in South Barrington, have been getting to know one another as colleagues
and friends. They also have been trying to plan an exchange between their
two enormous congregations. They have talked about having a portion of
their congregants swap church services, have dinner or hold another social
activity where they can experience one another's worlds.
"The fact that it hasn't occurred yet is more a matter of scheduling
than it is a matter of heart," Hybels said. "We have a wonderful
rapport and a genuine desire to see our churches do something in community.
"A lot of what causes evangelicals to pull together, when it's all
said and done, is the actual relating patterns of the leaders involved.
When there is a genuine friendship and likability and kinship or kindred
spirits, per se, it makes all of that happen with higher levels of joy,
or enthusiasm, or something. And Reverend Meeks and I feel that very powerfully
with each other.
"When we're together, we feel like we're kind of cut out of the
same cloth," he said. "We're interested in the same issues,
and we both look at the local church and how they need to be led."
A couple of months ago, when the two had a meeting at Salem Baptist,
Hybels said he actually flew to an airport nearby instead of spending
two-plus hours in traffic between South Barrington and the Far South Side.
"Have you done that drive?" Hybels said with chuckle. "I
could fly to Denver and have a meeting as easily as I could drive in traffic
and have a meeting with Meeks."
Still, Hybels, Meeks and their congregations have managed to schedule
a few events together. And, in June, for the second year, a group composed
of people half from Willow Creek and half from Salem will spend a week
together on a "Justice Journey" visiting historical civil rights-era
sites in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Meeks and Hybels believe it's just the beginning of a long relationship
between their churches, which they hope will become an example for the
rest of the evangelical community -- here and beyond.
But unless black and white evangelicals deal with the painful issues
of race that divide them, the spiritual unity they desire might be impossible
to attain, Emerson said.
"What it's going to hinge on is what white evangelical leaders and
the white evangelical church are willing to do," he said. "If
they continue to oppose racial justice and trying to overcome poverty
and things, they're not going to make much progress."
Beyond black and white: the new face of evangelicalism
BY CATHLEEN FALSANI Religion Reporter
In 2000, when the Rev. Wilfredo De'Jesus became pastor of the Chicago
congregation his father-in-law had led for 35 years, Palestine Christian
Temple Assemblies of God had about 125 active members and held its services
Five years later, New Life Covenant Assemblies of God -- as De'Jesus'
Humboldt Park congregation is now known -- draws 1,700 people to three
weekend services, two of them in English, one in Spanish.
"I made a promise to God that I would do everything possible, that
was my promise, to reach anybody, wherever they're at, for the cause of
Jesus," De'Jesus said.
New Life is flourishing and growing quickly, much like the rest of the
Chicago area's Hispanic evangelical community. There are no definitive
numbers to reflect the size of the Hispanic evangelical community here
or nationally -- pollsters say the community is still too small to count
accurately in the broader surveys of American religious practices. Still,
scholars say Hispanics might be the fastest-growing group of evangelicals
in the country.
In the next decade or two, many more Hispanic and Asian faces will appear
in the increasingly diverse family portrait of Chicago area evangelicals,
said Mark Noll, co-founder of the Institute for the Study of American
Evangelicals at Wheaton College, who is widely regarded as the leading
scholar of American evangelicals. "As Hispanic incomes rise, there
is going to be more integration, and Asian integration already takes place."
The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals is in the midst
of examining this phenomenon through a project called "The Changing
Face of American Evangelicalism," said Noll's colleague, Edith Blumhofer,
director of the institute.
"The interest was basically in what might an evangelical conversation
be like if the people around the table actually reflected the faces, the
ethnicities and the traditions that are out there rather than have the
conversation controlled by, well, older white males," Blumhofer said.
Throughout Chicago and the suburbs, many Hispanic and Asian evangelical
congregations -- Korean, Chinese and pan-Asian, in particular -- are expanding
from largely first- and second-generation immigrant congregations to multigenerational
churches that reflect a variety of religious traditions from mainline
Protestant to nondenominational charismatic.
Evangelical congregations such as the Chinese Christian Union Church
in Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood and Canaan Presbyterian Church in
Glenview draw hundreds of worshippers each weekend and run social service
ministries as well.
"The Asian-American community right now is in transition,"
said the Rev. Peter Cha, a professor of practical theology at Trinity
Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield who has written extensively about
Asian-American evangelicals. "Up until very recently, when you talked
about Asian-American experiences or representations, it would be predominantly
ethnic-language speaking, first-generation immigrants.
"We kind of have to wait for our turn, so to speak, in order to
be more visible leaders. I would say 10, 20 years from now, the picture
will change. Those who have been born and raised and trained in the United
States who are evangelical Christians will be both respected leaders within
their own community, and using their communal bases to speak to the larger
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