Message for Evangelical Christians
By: Donald Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on May 1, 2021
Evangelical Christians have been a faith-based community in America for a very long time. This community encompasses denominational and non-denominational religious faiths. In Deep South states, the Evangelical Christian churches were racially segregated until the 1980s and Evangelical Christians exhibited open hostility to members of the Jewish faith throughout most of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. As of today, Evangelical Christians continue to struggle with their acceptance of members of the Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths. Finally, the Evangelical Christians I know despise agnostics and atheists.
I am a Southern Baptist. My maternal grandfather, Rev. Willie Varnardo, was an iconic Baptist minister in Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. He was the person who explained Evangelical Christians to me, as he knew them from the late 1800s to the early 1960s. He knew them well. Some of these Christians left church on Sunday in a rural community near Canton, Mississippi and headed to a huge gathering of white men, women, and children to watch and participate in the festive activities surrounding the lynching of my grandfather’s cousin in the 1920s for a rape he did not commit. After the Christians left, Rev. Varnado and other family members were allowed to recover his cousin’s burned, mutilated, and hung body. No Evangelical Christian on the scene tried to stop the lynching like Jesus did when he intervened and stopped the stoning death of a woman who was accused of adultery. John 8:3-11
My childhood pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked to me about Evangelical Christians as a young boy in the 1950s. He taught me to love everybody. Repeatedly, Dr. King would read Matthew 5:44 to us: “[L]ove your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” I did not fully understand this verse until I was much older.
While I was in the 9th grade, Dr. King wrote his famous April 16, 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. The letter addressed his fellow white clergy – evangelical Christian ministers in the South – who were critical of his non-violent civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama. They chastised Dr. King as an “outsider” who was fermenting racial conflict between white and black citizens in the South and the nation. Even as Dr. King was being persecuted by segregationist Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor for protesting against Jim Crow laws across the South, he acknowledged that his critics were “men of genuine goodwill” and that “their criticisms [were] sincerely set forth”.
Members of the Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Catholic, and other faiths supported Dr. King’s non-violent civil rights movement, but white Evangelical Christians in the South, for the most part, did not. They wanted Dr. King and African Americans to submit to Bull Connor’s authority and obey Jim Crow laws. They often cited Romans 13:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 as Scripture for their religious views. Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” tactfully addressed the role of the Church in times of great morale crisis in a way that left these Evangelical Christians with a modicum of dignity and legitimacy.
Christianity and Politics
Today, Evangelical Christians nationwide have evolved into a major political force. They seek to impose Biblical doctrines on the national government. Even though America was founded as a democracy where white men only made all of the decisions for government for nearly 300 years, Evangelical Christians seek to advance a political agenda that would convert America into a theocracy where their interpretation of Scriptures drives the creation and enforcement of our laws, as well as the way our national government serves its citizens.
White Anglo-Saxons came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe. They were welcomed by Native Americans who occupied the lands. During the next 300 years, these settlers massacred an estimated 60 million Native Americans as they populated America from coast-to-coast. They also brought millions of Africans to America during this period to serve as slaves.
Evangelical Christians approved of slavery because it is blessed in Leviticus 25:44-46. They believed homosexuality was an “abomination” that was punishable by death. Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27. They believed that slaves should obey their masters. 1 Peter 2:18-20. They also believed that women were “weaker vessels” and should be submissive to their husbands. 1 Peter 3:1-7 and Ephesians 5:22-23
This is why commercial slavery existed and thrived in America from 1612 to 1865. Penal slavery under the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution still exists today. This is also why state laws were passed that gave men the legal right to beat their wives. This is why homosexual acts of sexual intimacy were classified as “sodomy” and criminalized.
Today’s Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported Donald J. Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Most Americans regard Trump as the most divisive president in modern history. Yet, Evangelical Christians completely disregarded the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 16:17-18; when it came to Trump. Paul said: “now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
I write this article in the spirit which Dr. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” 57 years ago. As fellow Christians, we should act as Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes. Matthew 5:1-10. We should love one another, as Jesus loved us. We should honor the Ten Commandments, which are the laws God wrote with his own hands. We should say the Lord’s Prayer each day, and mean it. Matthew 6:9-13. We should respect men, women, and children of all faiths, for Jesus preached to Jews and Gentiles, alike. Matthew 15:21-28. We should protect young children from clergy sex abuse, and teach them the way of the Lord. Matthew 19:13-14.
We should feed the hungry and give the thirsty something good to drink. We should take strangers in from foreign lands and welcome them as brothers and sisters. We should clothe the naked. We should heal the sick, whether they have health insurance or not. We should visit those in prison and make sure they are treated humanely. Matthew 25:31-46. In other words, we should treat the “least of these My brethren” as we would treat Jesus. This is not happening today, even though God has commanded it.
If Jesus walked the earth today, Evangelical Christians would probably declare him a “Communist” and “Marxist”. They would likely insist that Christ be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, parading without a permit, making wine without a liquor license, distributing food to the masses without a restaurant license, teaching law without the proper certifications, trespassing and destruction of property in the gaming houses, consorting with known prostitutes, loitering, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and vagrancy. The way Jesus answered questions using parables would make him a criminal suspect, especially since he was born in the Middle East and had color in his skin.
As for me, I find it fascinating that the best known man in human history never hated any person for any reason, never used his divine powers to harm or kill another human being, never sought riches for himself, never proclaimed his greatness, never disrespected men, women, or children, never condemned homosexuality, never restricted the institution of marriage to the union of a man and a woman, never prejudged a man’s reason for celibacy, never limited his healing powers to Jews only, never defended himself against false accusations, never distanced himself from Mary Magdalene even though Peter disliked her, never extracted revenge for Herod’s beheading of John the Baptist, never advocated using the death penalty for any offense (in fact, he stopped the stoning death of an accused adulteress), and never sought to glorify his own ministry.
Today’s Evangelical Christians would do well to model their behavior after Jesus Christ. Dr. King said as much in 1965 and I am saying it today.