This post concludes my four-part review of David P. Gushee, After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity. Gushee’s last two chapters cover politics and race.
8. Politics: Starting Over After White Evangelicalism’s Embrace of Trumpism
The title of this chapter pretty much sums up its contents. In Gushee’s estimation, evangelicals’ overwhelming support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election demonstrates beyond dispute their estrangement from the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached. It surfaced evangelicalism’s long-present undercurrent of “racism, sexism, nationalism, xenophobia, and indifference to ecology and the poor” (p. 144). According to Gushee, after Trump we must rethink Christian political involvement from the ground up. Gushee proposes seven “marks of healthy Christian politics” to guide this project (p. 149). They are as follows:
 A distinctive Christian identity,  action based on hope not fear,  critical distance from earthly powers,  grounding in the broad Christian social teaching,  global perspectives,  orientation toward serving God’s kingdom and the common good, and  efforts to practice what we preach (p. 149).
As is true of many lists of general principles, there is not much to quarrel with at the abstract level. (However for reasons that most readers will find obvious, marks 4, 5, and 6 worry me a bit.) But in his exposition of these marks he accuses white evangelicals of violating all seven egregiously. Moreover he implies that a truly Christian politics would lean leftward on the American political spectrum. The devil is always in the details.
9. Unveiling and Ending White-Supremacist Christianity
At the very beginning of this chapter Gushee lets us know that he accepts the thesis that in its founding and at its core the United States of America is systemically racist. The first words in this chapter are taken from Yale University theologian Eboni Marshall Turman; “White Christianity in America was born in heresy” (p. 151). Though Gushee does not say this in so many words, he writes as if white people have no right to a perspective on race. They are blind to their white privilege and the harm they have inflicted on people of color. Hence we must “rethink everything by listening to people of color” (p. 162). White people should listen and not argue.
Post-evangelicals must adopt “a fully antiracist way of life” (p. 167). The footnote that follows this sentence refers to Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, which I reviewed on this blog in December 2020. I think I am safe in assuming that Gushee accepts Kendi’s definitions of racism and antiracism (See my review of Kendi). I will end my summary of this chapter with some of Gushee’s concluding remarks and a brief reflection:
I am so very late in saying all this.
I am appalled at my lateness…
And when exactly did I see that white American Christianity was born in heresy, and that my polite center-left self has been complicit in it? About five minutes ago. More precisely, about the day after Donald Trump’s election and the great reveal of the evangelical 81 percent.
It must be that dealing with the white European American Christian racism is the most threatening challenge of all. It must be that the horror is too great, the shame too awful, for many of us white guys to want to look over in that direction if we can avoid it.
I am sorry. So very sorry. I believe I have begun to repent. Whether I have succeeded in doing so will be judged by others, and by Christ himself (pp. 167-68).
1. Gushee applies a principle to the subject of race that he applies also to the issue of LGBTQ affirmation, feminism, and other contemporary issues of importance to progressive Christians:
Those defined as poor, powerless, and oppressed know and speak the truth whereas those defined as rich, powerful, and oppressors are blind to the truth and can speak only lies.
This principle in one form or another drives the logic of contemporary progressive Christianity. It is seductive and insidious in its appeal to emotion and (white, straight, male) guilt. But it will not pass the test of examination by reason or Christian doctrine. As to the first, no one is competent to judge themselves, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, oppressed or oppressor. No one can see their own sins as others see them, and no one can see the sins of others as God sees them. No solution on race will be achieved by canonizing only one group’s judgments. As to the second test, we must never forget that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Rich or poor, powerful or powerless, oppressed or oppressor, each group is tempted in its own way, and each group sins in its own way. All need forgiveness.
2. I find Gushee’s self-loathing apology quoted above very off-putting. Not that I doubt its sincerity. To the contrary, it is its sincerity that bothers me most. He apologizes tearfully to no one in particular and for no particular racist act. He implies, rather, that he is not guilty of that kind of act. He seems, instead, to be apologizing for being white and for his past thoughtless enjoyment of the privileges his whiteness gave him.* His words express an inner shame that can never be forgiven or removed, only atoned for by a periodic sacrifice of confession. For he cannot but continue to enjoy his privilege—it comes with being white!—only now he does so in a mood of guilt and shame. Such is the nature of what is called “white guilt.” I do not believe it is a good foundation for racial reconciliation in society or in the church. There is much more to be said on this topic. Perhaps on another occasion.
*By apologizing for his whiteness instead of his personal sins, he drags all white people into his apology, thus arrogating to himself a representative status. His audacity in apologizing for the sins of others taints his apology with a mood of arrogance and makes him vulnerable to the charge of self-righteousness, or to use a common pejorative term, virtue signalling. I see now why at first reading I found his apology so off-putting. My view has not changed.