The Pen

Helping People Escape the Evangelical Black Ghetto

The ghetto was a term originally used in Italy to refer to parts of Venice occupied by Jews as a result of social ostracization. Over the course of the 20th Century, however, the term came to describe the dilapidated parts of any city that are predominately occupied by the economically underprivileged. Often times the term, ghetto, also refers to neighborhoods which are correspondently occupied by ethnic minorities who happen to be impoverished.

With the exception of certain parts of Europe in the early to mid-20th Century, the common ethnic segregation in urban ghettos has been self-imposed. In America, for example, no laws exist that forcefully segregate people into various neighborhoods according to ethnic demographics. Rather, the phenomenon of the ghetto is one that is organic in nature. It seems that people naturally coalesce into neighborhoods with similar cultures or subcultures, races or ethnicities. No law forces African Americans to inhabit areas replete with government subsidized housing, for example, and no law forces Caucasians of lower socio-economic strata to live in trailer parks. People have a tendency to live where they want to live and where it is financially viable to make hearth and home.

Various views have been developed by sociologists and humanitarian organizations in regards to the best way to end the plight of the ghetto and its denizens. Those on both the left and the right have presented opposing plans to revitalize the urban inner city, reinvigorat dilapidated neighborhoods, and restore pride and success in areas long forgotten by societal and economic progress.

On the left, the answer to the ghettoization of America has been the subsidization of housing and the access to government assistance offices (within walking distance of predominately poor neighborhoods). Their answer hasn’t been to end the ghetto, or to raise it out of poverty, or to provide a quick avenue of escape for ambitious ghetto dwellers who desire a better life. Recognizing the ghetto as an important voting block for Democrats and leftists, “progressives” have been content to do everything possible to keep people inside the ghettos while providing financial incentives to do so. These financial incentives come in the form of HUD housing, government housing, welfare programs, and a whole host of neighborhood-specific welfare programs that seek to allow every resident of the ghetto to feel comfortable enough in their condition to de-incentivize them moving away from their impoverished and neglected neighborhoods.

In other words, leftists have always had a vested interest in keeping the ghetto the ghetto and keeping residents thereof quarantined. Their efforts at building a virtual wall, brick by metaphoric brick of government assistance programs to keep their voters inside the bounds of the ghetto, has largely been successful.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have felt the best solution to ending the plight of those in the ghetto is to get them out. Allowing the free market to do the heavy lifting, when the government doesn’t tax away our income in order to redistribute it to those who don’t work, people are free to take their paycheck – no matter how meager – and spend it on improving their lot in life. Conservatives have championed school vouchers, which would allow ghetto-dwellers to send their children to better schools and give them a better opportunity to leave behind their woeful estates in violent or illiterate neighborhoods. Restricting HUD funds and minimizing government housing forces minority groups imprisoned in the ghetto to seek housing among the general populace, providing the benefit of naturally de-segregating people previously restrained by government programs from moving away to better locales. By not treating people like slaves in need of paternal care by the state, conservatives desire to empower people to better their own lives and we believe they’re capable of it.

In the name of liberalism, the residents of urban ghettos are only more enslaved to the government plantation. Through the softened bigotry of lowered expectations, minority groups that are (racially) expected little of, too often give little in return. On the other hand, expecting people to do better (regardless their skin color) will actually result in people doing better.

When we view people as God intended, not according to victimized classes and subgroups but as individuals made in his image, people give their best. The surest way of a person improving their life is to take ownership of their own lot, take full responsibility, and do the things necessary to improve it without casting blame or living off of the handouts of others. This can only happen if those of a higher privilege refuse to treat “victimized classes” (also known as the unfortunate, lazy, inept, illiterate, or providentially underprivileged) as less than human. When everyone – even those in the ghetto – are treated as peers, the human spirit rises to the occasion and conquers the odds to improve their estate.

Overlooking statistical facts relating to underperformance in education or work ethic in the name of love or liberalism are the chain links that enslave the underclass. Without having equal expectations for all, those of a lower socio-economic strata remain perpetually enslaved to the bondage of poverty and ignorance, subsidized by the financial paternalism of the elite.

Today, there remains an evangelical black ghetto that is just as real as the decrepit and decayed inner city neighborhoods of Oakland, Harlem, and Chicago. And the reason why so few escape that ghetto is for the same reason that economic subordination remains so dominate; instead of viewing all people as equal in the sight of God and therefore responsible for their own lives, it is more gratifying to subsidize ignorance and bad behavior. This only results in people remaining in their estate, demonstrating that rarely is a hand-out a hand-up.

The reality is that a great many black wards of the evangelical elitist class remain a permanent fixture in the theological underclass. White evangelical elitists like Tim Keller who live in New York mansions, or in gated neighborhoods like Russell Moore, or operate seminaries with antebellum-era campuses complete with plantation-architecture facilities like Albert Mohler, have chosen their lot with leftists and employed their strategies to improve that doctrinal ghetto. History will demonstrate their strategies are a pandering paternalism that is altogether unhelpful in changing or improving the black evangelical community.

Due to many factors that are historically undeniable, chiefly the infiltration of Liberation Theology that has given much (but obviously not all) black evangelicalism over to a fixation on social religion rather than Biblical theology, a systemic problem of doctrinal underprivilege exists among this segment of American religion. Instead of helping them escape the black evangelical ghetto, newly woke social justice evangelicals from predominately wealthy and white demographics have helped them overlook personal responsibility for the state of their churches and de-incentivized the improvement of their theology. They have chiefly done this by overlooking the woefully poor theology of many black evangelical leaders and promoting them anyway to the lecture circuit and public spotlight, irrespective of their deficit of Bible knowledge and sound Biblical teaching. While the virtue signaling induced by promoting token black figures in their conferences and institutional boards plays well at the golf course, it doesn’t actually help the so-called “black church” in any way.

It is undeniable by any honest person that Thabiti Anyabwile, Eric Mason, H.B. Charles, Jackie Hill Perry, Dwight McKissic, Trillia Newbell, Anthony Bradley, or Kyle J. Howard have been promoted by the Evangelical Intelligentsia – the theological equivalent of limousine liberals – for little more than the color of their skin. Their theology is troublesome, their knowledge of the Bible is bereft, their Scriptural ignorance is palpable and what knowledge they do have is often misapplied. Through what is little more than evangelical Affirmative Action and a thinly veiled racial quota, the most powerful (and presumably astute) evangelical institutions – from Together for the Gospel to the ERLC to The Gospel Coalition – have promoted these men and women who, if they were white, would be ticket-buyers to their events and not keynote speakers.

To be a black evangelical is to have a golden ticket to notoriety and novelty, the equivalent of receiving a race-based scholarship to an Ivy League institution (or Southern Baptist Seminary) based not upon merit, but skin color.

This approach will not help clear out the black evangelical ghetto or let its inhabitants escape by improving their estate. It is nothing short of condescending evangelical welfare designed to make those prone to white guilt feel less guilty and signal virtue on the highest mast.

Many quality darker-skinned brothers and sisters in Christ exist and make worthwhile contributions to evangelicalism. Those brothers, like Voddie Baucham, however, have never lived in the black evangelical ghetto and refuse to. These men and women are often overlooked because they refuse to engage in the Identity Politics of woke evangelicalism, finding their identity in Jesus rather than in victimhood.

Ulitmately, like the geographical quarrantine of the inner cities, living in the evangelical ghetto is a choice. Freedom is only a bus ticket away, but incentives provided by pandering paternalism from the evangelical plantation keeps people in check by rewarding systematically bad theology in the name of inclusivism. And frankly, it hurts rather than helps the evangelical black ghetto.

So long as speakers on the evangelical lecture circuit are chosen – even in part – by the color of their skin and their identity with a victim group, it removes their incentive to be personally accountable for one’s estate.

A truly non-racist person would look at people individually and not regard them according to ethnicity. And if that were the case, the majority of those mentioned above would not be heard of in the pages of The Gospel Coalition or in the speaker’s line up at the ERLC conferences or Together for the Gospel.