January 5, 2010
We just got back from InterVarsity’s Urbana 09 Student Missions Convention in St. Louis, where 45% of the over 16,000 attendees were non-white. So David Van Biema’s article in the current issue of Time magazine about evangelicals and race is, well, timely.
The article highlights the perennial questions about how segregated Sunday morning worship is, and focuses on one church that is trying to do something about it. In the process, Van Biema quotes three IVP authors. The church, perhaps surprisingly, is Willow Creek, founded by Bill Hybels (Too Busy Not to Pray, Who You Are When No One’s Looking and Making Life Work). Remarkably, in ten years Willow has shifted from being almost entirely white to being 20% minority.
The article notes that the person who got Hybels started down this path was IVP author Alvin Bibbs (Crazy Enough to Care), who was on staff at Willow at the time and gave Hybels a copy of Michael Emerson’s Divided by Faith. Van Biema also quotes the reaction of David Anderson, founder of the multicultural Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Md. and author of IVP’s Gracism, who said, “I bet they’ve done it faster and better than anyone else with a church that large starting off as all white.”
Such topics have been an interest of IVP for decades with dozens of books on the subject. For evangelicals as a whole, challenges definitely remain in this realm but such change is encouraging and offers hope and a model for others to emulate.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:43 AM
March 20, 2008
Author and pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright has been much in the news lately. Dr. Wright has a chapter in an InterVarsity Press book I edited, Women's Liberation Jesus Style. So I have been following the conversation with interest. For some insight into how African American Christians might view Dr. Wright's comments and Obama's response, I turned to Edward Gilbreath's blog.
Ed has been a writer and editor at Christianity Today and is now working as director of editorial services for Urban Ministries, Inc. He is the author of the book Reconciliation Blues. He has been closely following the presidential race and Obama in particular. Here's an excerpt from his blog post entitled "Does Obama Have a Prayer?" March 15, 2008:
. . . In recent months, I’ve often thought to myself that the presence of an African American and a woman in the presidential race was a good thing for helping America confront its complex history in a more honest way. Lately, however, I’ve become convinced that it’s impossible to give an honest critique of these things in the context of a political campaign. It seems that the majority of American voters are simply not willing to go beyond the surface to reckon with the issues of our nation’s history—and its present—in a way that requires a sustained use of critical reasoning.
I don’t mean to come across as negative or elitist, but it doesn’t seem white America in general (including the media) are culturally and intellectually equipped to understand, for instance, Michelle Obama’s recent comment that “for the first time in my adult life, I’m really proud of my country.” Rather than see it as a vulnerable moment from an African American woman whose life experience is very different from theirs, many whites used it as an opportunity to question her patriotism or label her a racist.
Likewise, the recent video of Barack Obama’s now-former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, also brought swift condemnation from many whites who accused Wright—and by extension Obama—of being a racist. However, a fair and thoughtful viewing of the video reveals a man who, while clearly angry and frustrated, was attempting to offer a serious (albeit blistering) critique of American culture, racism, and white privilege. Rev. Wright is undeniably inflammatory in tone, and this certainly is not the kind of public support anyone running for President of the United States probably covets (just ask Obama), but simply writing his words off as racist or hateful misses the deeper point. I won’t go so far as saying I agree with everything Rev. Wright says, but I will say that those unfamiliar with black church tradition and oratory, as well as the African American experience in general, will find it hard to understand the emotional nuance and intellectual underpinnings of his sermon.
If Obama survives these latest racial and religious minefields, it will be because enough white voters were willing to exercise critical thinking and stretch their understanding of race, faith, and culture beyond their own familiar experience. Which conversely means if Obama loses as a result of this stuff, it could very well be said it’s because he’s black. This doesn’t necessarily mean those white voters are racists, just that they do not possess the cultural tools to examine race, faith, and culture beyond their own limited experience. Posted by Edward Gilbreath