Jemar Tisby vs. “White Evangelicals”

Earlier this week, we reported that RAANetwork has come under the scrutiny of many in the Evangelical community for comments made by Jemar Tisby during an episode of Pass the Mic. In response to his critics, Tisby has doubled down. What is the source of his anxiety? “Among many troubling implications of a Donald Trump presidency, is the fact that, of those who voted, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.” Tisby goes on to explain precisely why this statistic is so troubling to him:

“White evangelicals voted for him in spite of Trump saying that Mexico is sending illegal immigrants across the U.S. border who are rapists, and that a Mexican judge who was born and raised in the U.S. must be biased because he’s Mexican. They voted for a man who refused to rent apartments to people of color, who called for the death penalty of the exonerated Central Park 5, who questioned President Obama’s citizenship. They cast the ballot for a man who draws the support of the KKK and their leaders, who said that maybe a black protester should have been “roughed up”, who calls for a national stop-and-frisk policy, he lumps all black people together by saying “the blacks” or “my African American,” and the list goes on and on. As a member of one of the many groups President-elect Trump has denigrated, I can’t overlook those statements as mere rhetoric.”

While I agree with Tisby in many of his critiques of Trump and would add many more (again, I did not vote for Trump), I find it truly telling that he starts off saying, “of those who voted, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump,” but then never mentions the statistic again. Rather, he spends the rest of the article claiming “white evangelicals” voted for Trump as though this group is a monolith. This is a shrewd rhetorical device.

The Statistics

Let’s begin by examining the statistic. First, when I think of the term evangelical, my mind automatically goes to those with whom I would share a pew on Sunday, and this is precisely how Tisby both understands the term and hopes his readers will understand the term. However, when pollsters use the term, their criteria should be questioned. We must ask, does one even have to be an evangelical to claim to be one? Some people are cultural evangelicals, having been raised in the church and perhaps even said a “sinners prayer” at one point in their lives, but not having darkened a church door in years. Others could claim to be evangelical who would never be accepted into the movement or the local church. Let us recall that the KKK claims to be Christian, and would be condemned by pretty much every evangelical Christian I’ve ever read.

Let’s be generous and say that 85% of Trump voters who were white and claimed to be evangelical are actually evangelical. There is a second consideration at play. Just because 81% of a particular demographic (e.g. white professing-evangelicals) of voters voted for Trump does not mean that 81% of that demographic as a whole voted for him. We know that nearly half of America didn’t even vote. Since we don’t know what percentage of that nearly half of America were white evangelicals, let’s be generous again and say that 50% of white evangelicals didn’t even vote. That narrows the number even further.

50% of 81% is 40.5%, and 85% of 40.5% is 34.425%, and yet Tisby insists: “White evangelicals voted for him in spite of Trump saying that Mexico is…” Notice the blanket accusation. Based on roughly 35% of white (actually practicing) evangelicals voting for a particular person, regardless of their reasons, white evangelicals in general are to blame for his sins (which are many). Let’s stay on this statistics train for a few more miles. I have read statistics that demonstrate that less than 35% of African Americans came out to vote. Does this mean that the blanket accusation could be made that African American evangelicals should be blamed for not showing up to stop Trump? And don’t tell me the African American vote can’t make the difference. If it weren’t for the African American vote, President Obama would not have won two national elections. Furthermore, Trump won more of a percentage of the black vote than either Romney or McCain. Does that mean that African American evangelicals gave Trump the edge he needed over Clinton? Should Tisby feel unsafe worshiping with black evangelicals?

Tisby’s Gracelessness

Obviously, I’m being facetious. This is a terrible way to read statistics as our little exercise has hopefully proven. It also demonstrates another very ungracious way of interpreting election results through a theological lens. It assumes everyone in the pew is as absorbed with politics as Tisby is (and as much as, admittedly, I am). Nearly half of America didn’t vote. Of those who did vote, many did not decide for whom they would vote until the very last minute. I will admit that I wrestled with casting my first non-GOP vote for POTUS up until the last minute.

It appears that Tisby is struck by a different phenomenon than merely who voted for whom. The brick wall into which he face-planted this election cycle is the fact that other Christians are not consumed by the same things that consume him. This really is the goal of RAAN, if you have followed their articles as long and as frequently as we have. They are like the children in the market place of which our Lord spoke:

31To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep,’” (Luke 7:31-32; NASB).

Tellingly, in this passage, Jesus is talking about religious leaders who were adding to the law in order to condemn all who oppose them, specifically Christ and John the Baptist. Not only now are many religious leaders adding to the Law notions of a “systemic” sin that condemns men for the sins of their fathers (Jer. 31:29-34) for which there is no provision of atonement and no clear path to repentance. Tisby also wants to add to it the sin of voting for the wrong political candidate. And never-you-mind if you did not vote for Trump. Even if you did not vote for Trump, if you are white you benefit from a Trump system. You cannot escape the sinfulness of benefiting from Trump-privilege.

Division: The Only Quantifiable Contribution of RAAN

This all comes to us by way of demonstrating just how self-centered and ethnocentric RAAN is. They tell us that they are here to teach us all about how to minister to the African American Christian community, but they offer no real service to the Christian community at all. In fact, they have only served to divide. In their teachings, white evangelicals have power, privilege, and prestige and must use that sinful platform only to serve their black brothers and sisters with torn clothes and ashes on their heads. Meanwhile, black evangelicals are best served to unite under the perpetual victim / weaker brother / consumer umbrella. This is not the church; this is Marxist re-engineering. This is not the gospel of union with Christ; this is worldly philosophy and the traditions of men.

A clarion call of RAAN has been that they identify with their base audience in that they are “tired” in the discussion of ethnic strife. I think people on both sides are tired. I can only hope that the exhaustion of the authors over at RAAN means that their error will soon cease and they will stop sowing division in the body of Christ.

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