The Pervasive Emphasis on White Christian Nationalism
The Pervasive-The pervading narrative surrounding White Christian nationalism has, for too long, dominated discussions about evangelical Christianity in America. Critics have labeled it an “imposter Christianity,” a heretical faith that “sanctifies lies,” and even “the most serious threat” to democracy in the country. This deviant strain of religion, which falsely asserts that the US was founded as a Christian nation, has infiltrated the political mainstream. However, amidst the relentless coverage of White Christian nationalism, an unintended consequence has emerged—the perpetuation of a racist myth that positions Whiteness as the default setting for evangelical Christianity.
The Pervasive-This problematic narrative is fueled by an avalanche of books, articles, and even a Hollywood film that predominantly focus on the beliefs and practices of White evangelical Christians. In a February 2023 survey, nearly two-thirds of White evangelical Protestants were identified as sympathizers or adherents to Christian nationalism. This hyperfocus on Whiteness within evangelicalism obscures a significant and transformative story—the rise of millions of Black, Latino, African, and Asian evangelical Christians who are reshaping the landscape of American Christianity.
The Pervasive-Pastor Peter Lim, the founder of “4Pointes Church of Atlanta,” represents the diversity within evangelicalism. As a Korean American evangelical, Lim highlights the perpetual invisibility experienced by Asian-American evangelicals, a reflection of a passive form of racism. Despite attending evangelical conferences, Lim notes that White pastors and leaders often dominate the stage, leaving non-White communities feeling overlooked and their stories minimized.
The Pervasive-The media’s portrayal of evangelical Christianity as inherently White contributes to the erasure of vibrant communities like Lim’s, where the full richness of diverse experiences remains untold. This unintentional omission stems from a collective failure by journalists, church leaders, and commentators to recognize and amplify the voices of non-White evangelicals, even as they rightfully address the dangers posed by White Christian nationalism.
The Pervasive-The narrow depiction of evangelicals as exclusively White conservatives further exacerbates the issue. The true definition of “evangelical” transcends color or political affiliation, encompassing Christians who share a born-again experience, take the Bible seriously, and believe in spreading their faith. Despite this broader definition, the term has become synonymous with White conservatism, perpetuating the myth that the face of evangelical Christianity is predominantly White.
The Pervasive-However, recent demographic shifts challenge this misconception. A 2017 survey reveals that one in three American evangelicals is a person of color, with Black Christians, in particular, surpassing their White counterparts in evangelical identification. The fastest-growing segment of evangelicals in the US comprises Latino Americans, and Asian Americans make up a significant portion of evangelical student groups at prestigious universities like Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford.
The Pervasive-Key evangelical organizations also showcase diversity in leadership. Notable figures such as Walter Kim, a Korean American president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Tom Lin, a Taiwanese American president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, defy the stereotype of evangelical leaders as exclusively White men with degrees from certain institutions.
The Pervasive-Moreover, figures like the Rev. William Barber II, a Black pastor and activist, exemplify the evolving face of evangelical Christianity. His progressive stance on issues like racism challenges the conservative image associated with White evangelicals. Scholars argue that non-White evangelicals tend to be conservative on matters like sexuality and abortion but lean towards progressive politics, highlighting a nuanced perspective that differs from their White counterparts.
The Pervasive-This shift in complexion within evangelicalism has roots in historical events, notably the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which facilitated the influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the US. Carolyn Chen, a professor at UC Berkeley specializing in Asian American religion, asserts that the narrative of American Christianity is no longer exclusively European but increasingly reflects the contributions of diverse cultures.
The Pervasive-The challenge faced by non-White evangelicals lies in reconciling their identity with a church that often fails to see or acknowledge them. This challenge is not new for Black evangelicals, who have historically lived on the periphery of White Evangelicalism, their stories remaining buried and untold. Pastor John C. Richards Jr., a Black evangelical, emphasizes the need for Black Christians to assert their identity within the evangelical narrative and resist historical erasure.
The Pervasive-However, some non-White evangelicals, like Pastor John Onwuchekwa, express exhaustion in defending their perspectives on race within predominantly White evangelical spaces. As the son of Nigerian immigrants, Onwuchekwa eventually distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention, an ultra-conservative, predominantly White evangelical denomination. He abandoned the label “evangelical” altogether, considering it unhelpful and exclusively political.
The Pervasive-The experience of being overlooked or reduced to discussions solely about race is a common thread among non-White evangelicals. Pastor Lim shares how Asian-American families in his church left larger, predominantly White evangelical congregations following the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings. The lack of acknowledgment and discussion of the incidents in these churches made the Asian-American congregants feel invisible, emphasizing the need for spaces where the full intricacies of humanity are appreciated.
Despite these challenges, non-White evangelicals are poised to play a crucial role in shaping the future of the American church and politics. Demographic changes indicate that the face of evangelical Christianity will become increasingly diverse, challenging the perception that White Americans have a monopoly on this faith. While White evangelicals may remain a potent political force, the vibrancy and contributions of non-White evangelicals should no longer be buried or untold.
Contrary to the narrative of a declining Christianity in the US, the influx of non-White immigrants, many of whom are evangelicals, presents a hopeful trajectory for the faith. These immigrants, along with their descendants, are actively involved in planting churches and bringing their religious fervor to the forefront. As the demographic landscape shifts, it becomes imperative to recognize and celebrate the rich and vibrant world of non-White evangelicals, acknowledging that not every discussion about evangelicals should center on White faces.
In conclusion, it is time to dismantle the myth that White Americans exclusively define evangelical Christianity. The narrative must evolve to reflect the true diversity within evangelicalism, acknowledging the contributions, experiences, and perspectives of millions of Black, Latino, Asian, and African evangelical Christians who are already reshaping the narrative and challenging the status quo. Only by embracing this diversity can the American church thrive and navigate the complex intersection of faith, identity, and politics in the years to come.