John Piper's 'thankfulness' at Lecrae's 'divorce' from white evangelicalism is good news for the Church
John Piper has expressed 'thankfulness and hope' after popular black Christian musician Lecrae said he was 'loosening ties' with 'white evangelicalism' after receiving a backlash for publicly challenging systemic racism in the US.
Lecrae is a black hip-hop musician who has found vast success both in the Christian and mainstream market. But he said gig audiences that once numbered 3000 depleted to 300 as the 'cost' of his outspoken criticism of racial inequality, evangelicalism and its alignment with Donald Trump in 2016.
Asked if he had 'divorced white evangelicalism' on the discussion podcast Truth's Table, Lecrae said his latest album was more outspoken, more artistically faithful to his own black culture, and wasn't trying to cater to or placate a white audience, 'even though those are the people who may show up at my show'.
'When Michael Brown was murdered, I just assumed that all Christians felt the way I did... "this is terrible, this is horrible"...so I just put it out there: "hey guys isn't this bad?" And you would have thought that I had just said that Jesus was not real. The visceral attacks that came my way were like a shock to my system,' Lecrae said.
Here he began to realise that 'all is not well', and that he didn't 'sign up' to be 'the poster child for evangelicalism'. Lyrics in the track 'Facts', from his latest album, show Lecrae unafraid to speak boldly against institutional racism:
'I will not oblige your colonised way of faith
My Messiah died for the world, not just USA
...They say, "'Crae, you so divisive, shouldn't be a black church"
I say, "Do the math, segregation started that first!"
Hey, you want unity? Then read a eulogy
Kill the power that exists up under you and over me'
Lecrae later asked in the podcast: 'If I turn my back on white evangelicalism, who am I? If we disagree on . . . Black Lives and social justice, and I'm not getting pats on the back from John Piper, then who am I now? ... For years that had been what was shaping my identity. ...If I'm not the evangelical darling, who is Lecrae?...
'What if they get upset? What if they don't like me. It took blood on the ground for me to say, "I don't care what you think. People are dying."'
A renowned megachurch pastor, Piper himself is a long-established darling of white conservative evangelicalism, though he too has been unafraid to condemn it at times, including its enthusiastic endorsement of Donald Trump.
Responding to Lecrae's comments, he wrote at Desiring God: 'Since I'm the only supposed native of this "white evangelical" tribe that Lecrae mentioned in his interview, I thought it might be helpful to say publicly how I respond to this loosening of ties. I would even hope that others in the tribe might join me in feeling more thankful than frustrated, and more hopeful than disheartened.'
Piper appeared thankful because Lecrae hadn't reacted to his disillusionment against a 'colonised faith' by rejecting Christianity wholesale. Piper wrote: 'I know young men whose disillusionment with "white evangelicalism" was not as painful as Lecrae's, and yet they threw the brown baby of Bethlehem out with the white bathwater. They're done with Christianity. Done with the Bible. Done with Jesus – except the one they create to fit their present political mood. That could have been Lecrae. It could be you.'
Piper was also keen to challenge too broad a label for 'white evangelicals', emphasising that not all wear the caricatured political stripes: 'John Piper and a few million other supposed natives didn't vote for Donald Trump. We don't think unrepentant lechers should be president. We don't think Robert E Lee is a simple embodiment of nobility. We don't think the confederate flag can fly with impunity.
'We don't think kneeling for justice desecrates the other flag. We are baffled that Philando Castile's shooter walks free. We are dismayed at the nationwide resurgence of manifest racial antagonism. We don't think "systemic" is an unintelligible word. And a few of us, believe it or not, are impenitent five-point Calvinists (how else can you survive?). Is that "white evangelicalism"?'
Piper's comments of 'hope' themselves may be taken as a 'hopeful' sign for racial divisions in contemporary US evangelicalism, which continues to be torn, largely over reactions to the presidency of Donald Trump.
Relations won't have been helped after Trump's ambiguous responses to August's white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, nor his unhinged backlash against black NFL players who 'took a knee' to protest racial injustice in the US.
But Piper's voice, if heeded, could be significant. Several evangelical leaders just last week made an emphatic call for Trump to decisively condemn the 'alt right', again showing that evangelicalism is more nuanced than some would believe.
You can follow @JosephHartropp on Twitter