Divided by Faith, or Ambivalent Miracles? (Or Both).

Paul Harvey

Recently I wrote a thing on an excellent new book by Nancy Wadsworth,Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. This work continues the ongoing discussion initiated by the important work Divided by Faith. Below is the beginning portion of my thoughts, and just click on the link at the bottom to follow the rest. Last year, by the way, our contributor Karen Johnson interviewed the author in a two-part series; you can find that here and here. (Note: a brand new piece for The Atlantic explores similar themes on evangelicals and racial politics, focusing particularly on Southern Baptists. Thoughtful piece and well worth reading for those interested).
Ambivalent Miracles

Nancy D. Wadsworth, Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing, University of Virginia Press, 2014, 319pp., $39.95 Nancy Wadsworth’s stimulating new work on the politics of racial healing came to my attention just as news about national protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York took center stage in national news broadcasts. Social media buzzed with various reactions to the unprosecuted killings of unarmed black men, including numerous comments made by professional athletes. Just before a Monday night football game — and right after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case — a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin Watson, weighed in on Twitter: “So many thoughts on#Ferguson. My heart is full and I don’t know where to start. Lord help us. All of us. Black & White. Anger Fear Despair.” He then immediately followed up with a multifaceted facebook post which communicated his anger and frustration over the killings, connected them to experiences of African Americans through generations of American history, condemned violent responses to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, expressed empathy for police officers making split-second decisions, and looked for hope in the gospel of Christ. Watson’s words leapt to mind while I was reading Nancy D. Wadsworth’s Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing A key section of that post almost perfectly captures the ambivalence of the subtitle of Wadsworth’s book:

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Tom Van Dyke said…
Mr. Harvey's review concludes:

If one examines the voting patterns of evangelicals and their penchant for gravitating towards candidates who harp on themes of social morality and explicitly ignoring structural inequalities that frame America’s racial politics, then there may be less reasons for hope than Wadsworth thinks, and than I want to think.

One (admittedly limited) test case comes to mind: Evangelically-motivated voters in my home state of Oklahoma just elected James Lankford (R) as their new Senator, replacing Tom Coburn. Lankford had a long history working for Southern Baptist agencies in Oklahoma, including a stint as director of youth programs at Fall’s Creek Assembly, the largest Christian youth camp in America (and a place where I spent a week every summer in junior high and high school, hearing impassioned sermons from preachers famous among Southern Baptists for their evangelical fire). Lankford stepped down from his Baptist work in 2009 when he won election to the House of Representatives, and now will be in the U.S. Senate.

His recent record in the House, judging from his Facebook page, seems mostly to be obsessed with eliminating Obamacare (including eliminating those provisions that provide subsidies to the most financially needy applicants for health insurance) and with opposing Obama’s executive action decisions on immigration, including those providing for the reuniting of families. I could not find a single post about #Ferguson.

Lankford is just one individual, and Oklahoma is an unusually conservative state, so this may not be an entirely fair test. But if we use Lankford to test Wadsworth’s thesis, then I can only say, God help us, because we’re not going to help ourselves.

Agreement with Democratic Party positions and policies seems to be inextricably linked to racial healing as well as a proper Christianity. This is problematic on any number of levels.